Flexible Spine vs Stable Spine

 

If we wish to have a healthy body we need to understand flexibility and stability, especially when it comes to the spine. I’m writing this post because recently I’ve heard several people emphasizing the importance of having a flexible spine without talking about stability.

While there should be a degree of mobility or flexibility in the spine, to maintain back health it’s very important to have stability. Every joint in the body has a range of motion, and the spine is made up of many joints, which all contribute to the overall range of motion of the back. However, the spine is not designed to be a prime mover, meaning to lift and move loads mostly through the movement of the back, but unfortunately this is how many people use their body and is also the reason why many people suffer unnecessary back pain.

The muscles of the spine and torso are designed to keep the spine stable and supported, while the big joints of the body such as the hips, knees and shoulders etc move us through life by generating big movements and lifting heavy loads, as they have a large range of motion. When we move like this we are strong.

So what would this look like?

 

The Hinge

door hinge

It’s called a hinge. And just like a hinge you would see on a door, both sides of the hinge being stable (not flexing) while the movement takes place at the joint, or fulcrum, of the hinge. In the human body the fulcrum is the hips.

Let’s take a daily activity such as emptying the dishwasher as an example. The ideal way to do this is to keep the back straight and supported while we hinge from the hips, keeping the weight back on the heels and bend the knees as needed. It is important that there is some bend in the knees and that you are not locking the knees straight. So this hinge can turn into a squat, but it is the straight spine and hinge that generate the movement.

 

Emptying dishwasher

 

Compromised Movement Patterns

 

The common movement pattern breakdown for many people is a bending of the spine, particularly at the lower back, instead of hinging from the hips. So instead of having a strong supported spine and moving the big joints, what happens is that most of the movement, and therefore load and stress, happens through the spine. Not good! This is where we break down and weaken our structure as this movement pattern becomes habit. These movements are also more likely to create injury.

Not too long ago I heard the story of a high level professional athlete putting his back out while taking milk from the fridge. This is an example which shows that it really doesn’t matter who you are or how fit you are, poor movement patterns make you more susceptible to injury.

If you have not “tweaked” your back personally, then I’m sure you know at least one person who has. Whether it was picking something up, lifting a child into or from a car, shoveling snow or even working out, often the injury happens because the action was done with poor body mechanics, including a bending at the lower back and possibly twisting at the same time.

Dr Stuart McGill of Waterloo University, one of the world’s foremost experts in spine bio-mechanics talks about how stability of the spine is so important for optimal spinal health.

“Statistically, those who have more range of motion in their back have a greater risk of back disorders in the future. So having a flexible spine is not protective, in fact it is quite the opposite.” – Dr Stuart McGill

See the video below:

The Solution

 

Correcting poor movement patterns takes conscious effort. Unfortunately most of the muscles that should support us to move well have become weak, imbalanced and dysfunctional due to poor postural habits and having moved poorly for so long.

Strengthening of the posterior chain of muscles is essential to our ability to stand up straight and hinge properly from the hips.

Foundation Training focuses strongly on the posterior chain to help retrain our body to once again move as nature intended. When these fundamental human movement patters are the foundation of your movement, then you will get more out of everything else you do… Relieve pain, prevent injuries and increase athletic performance.

The exercises are simple and can be done anywhere. The movements are easily integrated into the rest of your life. To use the example of emptying the dishwasher again, simple daily activities like this can easily become something that helps builds you up, reinforcing good movement patterns to make you stronger.

I’ve been doing massage for 13 years now, and for the last 18 months I have been integrating these movements into the way I work, and I now experience none of the aches and pains that used to come with doing full time massage and I feel stronger than the many years prior.

Foundation Training can be done in classes, workshops, organized for groups or can even be done over skype.

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