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The Worst Myth Of Helping Low Back Pain

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One of the biggest challenges for anyone who is trying to train to achieve a specific fitness goal or to learn more how to create great results, is figuring out what is good and bad information. I’m not going to be a grumpy old coach and tell you that everything on the internet is bad, there are great coaches and even good information, but man, it is hard to determine what is actually the good stuff. After all, if someone has a million followers and gets thousands of likes on a post, they MUST know what they are talking about.

Of course, I say that with great sarcasm, but at the same time that is reality. Sure, most of us will say that having a big following doesn’t equal being a great coach, but if not that, then what does? That’s the problem that I think many fitness coaches and enthusiasts run into. That is one of my big motivators as we are in year 19 of doing DVRT and while blogs aren’t what they use to be, I think they are still very important!

Mostly because so many topics require some nuance and context to give good answers and on most social media platforms that is just not possible. One of the biggest areas I see this being the case is helping issues related to low back pain. Thanks to social media there are some not just incorrect myths about low back pain, but advice that could be dangerous. The most risky one is the topic I broke down for today’s post. Let me explain…

Myth: Your Spine Is Meant To Bend

This is a low back pain myth that definitely needs both context and nuance to get right. On one hand, is the statement true that your spine is suppose to bend? Yes, it should have the capability of bending, however, there are a few points that need to be clarified.

Loaded vs. Unloaded: The “your spine is meant to move” group tends to actually be saying that the reason you have low back pain is because you don’t bend your spine enough. This is not supported by any actual research on low back pain (which there is a TON on), but rather the general tendency we have in fitness to believe if something gets hurt the problem is that the region didn’t have enough flexibility and mobility.

Ironically, if the the spine should bend group read any of the literature they would see that a great majority of those with low back pain actually have TOO MUCH movement of the individual vertebrae.

low back pain

So, it is commonly misunderstood that when someone has low back pain their body is probably guarding the area and this is causing the perceived tightness in bending the spine. Trying to then throw load on the spine only increases the stress and danger of the movement through the nervous system which can easily result in more pain or more guarding. If any area is seen as being too unstable by the nervous system our body WILL put the brakes on.

You can see above we can train to reduce the brakes of our body, but one important question we should be asking if we have to consistently start at very tight ranges of motion is why are we finding tightness. Are there actual structural changes causing such issues which in my case is absolutely yes!

Many people that do try to bend their spines (often even under load) don’t actually move their lumbar spine. They get flexion in the thoracic spine and hips which actually shows a different issue.

low back pain

You can see that I often begin with guarding because my structure is under attack by disease that constantly creates instability in my lumbar spine. No matter how much mobility and flexibility work I do my body goes back to tightness because we can’t change the structural instability. On the right you can see I can take the brakes off quite a bit and get to what looks like a decent toe touch but due to my fusions my lumbar spine can’t really round like it should so you see I have to go through more of my hamstrings and upper back which isn’t ideal. 

If you look at the image above, the far left is healthy and normal, but the majority of people that show “rounding the low back” under load are more like the far right with some curing of the upper back. They don’t actually ever even create the movement they are supposedly after. However, even IF we did we have another issue where we get TOO much mobility from other segments and not enough from the low back. This gets amplified when we go under load.

We know from many research studies like this 2012 paper, “It would appear that while flexion alone can still cause nucleus pulposus to track through the annulus of an intervertebral disc, the effects are compounded when it is followed by a subsequent cycle of extension. Thus, movements which require both repetitive flexion and extension, have the potential to produce more annular damage than those which require merely flexion.”

The above is not even considering load as also then compounding the potential risk for a disc herniation. Our bodies do have the ability to bend and if we don’t we should find out what is the restriction (is it guarding because of pain and/or instability, something else?) and trying to address that specifically as well. We do know that lack of hip mobility can cause our spine to lock down and even increase pain symptoms. So, it would make sense that instead of trying to randomly load our spine in flexion, we go after hip mobility for low back pain like below by physical therapist, Jessica Bento…

If we REALLY want to make people more resilient to low back pain we should create workouts based on exercises that are based on those strategies. Like what Coach Greg Perlaki shows below. This DVRT series (along with other tools) shows how we create hip strength, hip mobility, core stability, integrated glute strength, deceleration training, and so much that is ACTUALLY linked and researched to helping low back pain (not for those currently in pain we can do another post on that because people in pain need to relearn how to perform all these drills from more of a foundation). However, good training should focus on these concepts not social media science that has no real basis for its use.

A great way to build the combination of stability and mobility is with our DVRT Water Bags. Don’t miss this week saving 25% throughout DVRT including our water bags, you can simply upgrade any Ultimate Sandbag package to get both sand and water fillers HERE or add to your Ultimate Sandbags with water fillers HERE. Use code “sale25” and save big!