CTH Healthcare Articles

How to Protect your Spine

Do you try to keep your spine straight when lifting or sitting? Have you been told your core is weak, that you must ‘activate’ it to protect your spine?

Stop trying.

All the joints we have in our body are there for movement.

MOVEMENT protects us.

Human bodies are robust and dynamic – and movement makes us more so.

So trying to ‘protect’ our joints by not moving – by guarding and bracing, by keeping the spine straight – these things actually do the opposite; they tighten muscles and prevent good, relaxed, confident movement.

And we start moving like robots.

Try this: make a tight fist, keep squeezing… bend your wrist back and forth: it’s not very comfortable. Now relax the hand and move it back and forth – it’s a totally different movement experience, very natural and comfortable – effortless. If you’re holding or tightening muscles (like your core) when you move, you stop your spine (and other joints) from bending naturally: it starts working like that tight fist and it’s easy to see how that can cause back pain, not resolve it.

I see many people in clinic who are holding themselves or guarding either because they are stuck in a subconscious protection loop or because they’ve been told they need to stabilise and brace in order to protect. Protection and guarding are normal responses to trauma, but for long term back pain it can be the thing that’s stopping the problem from resolving.

Think about it this way: elite athletes are elite because they have smooth confident movement that is relaxed and powerful. Usain Bolt is a great example: super relaxed, super powerful, not at all protective or rigid. If he were to tighten up doing his 100m sprint he’d be a less efficient mover, less powerful and more likely to get injured. Make sense?

Biomechanics – human movement – is the same for anyone, whether athlete, weekend warrior, or walker. Relaxed movement is key.

Here’s another example: If you jump with straight legs, you won’t jump very high because you need to bend your knees to load your muscles; if you land with straight legs it’ll feel uncomfortable and jarring, you need to bend your knees to absorb the shock of landing.

Bending joints is GOOD.

You would never avoid bending your elbow in order to protect it because that would hinder the whole point of the elbow – so why do we think it’s useful to avoid bending the back while picking something up or avoid deep-squatting to protect the knees? These movements are functional natural human movement, it’s what we’re made for.

We NEED joint bending and dynamic movement for muscles to be strong, powerful, relaxed, comfortable.

Relaxed confident movement improves shock absorption and it sends good messages to the central nervous system (proprioception) – both these things reduce pain, and can be relevant and useful for people suffering with pain that has been associated with various causes like arthritis or disc degeneration.

Don’t take my word for it, try for yourself, experiment with normal daily movement tasks that you find painful; notice if you’re protecting, holding or bracing, then take a couple of slow belly breaths, think about relaxing and do the same movement again. See what happens, observe if your pain changes, see if it becomes more comfortable.

If you are struggling to move and relax because you’re scared of pain or scared that pain on movement means you’re doing damage then it might be a good idea to get some help, find a good practitioner to coach you through the process so you feel safe and you can build movement confidence.

Search for a practitioner trained in CFT (Cognitive Functional Therapy) in your area. Or call the clinic and we’ll be happy to provide advice or book you in for a consultation if you wish.

~~ Carry Triggs Hodge is a musculo-skeletal movement and pain specialist with extensive training and experience in helping people overcome disabling chronic pain problems, focusing on individualised care that improves resilience and function.~~

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