Five Life Changes to Reduce Back Pain: Bending

Bend… bend… bend and bend some more. Sound like a typically day? If not, pause and think for a minute. Bending moments on our spine occur with nearly every task: sitting, bending, lifting, putting on socks, pants, and shoes. Any guesses to how many bending moments you perform in a single day? One hundred? Three Hundred? A thousand? Well, the average person will bend forward 2-4000x each day.1 Shocked? –You should be. Repetitive forward bending can accelerate the aging on your spine.

Previous, we discussed how sitting biases our spine to a flexed posture. Similarly, forward bending positions our spine to this flexed posture. One research experiment by Nachemson and Elfstrom determined that as little as 20 degrees of flexion increases the pressure through our discs by 30%.2 While 30% may seem inconsequential, think about the position of your spine throughout the day. Our spine is often exposed to numbers well beyond 20 degrees of forward bending. For example: retrieving an object from the floor, leashing a dog, or simply sitting. Your spine on average will be positioned closer to 90 degrees of flexion for most lifting and bending tasks. As we approach this range the pressure through your disc intensifies up to 150%. Let’s pause for a second. This 150% increase in lumbar disc pressure occurs without adding the weight of the object you’re lifting. The weight of the object and our lifting form can exponentially increase disc pressure. (Proper Lifting Technique will be covered in a follow up article). Besides affecting our discs, forward bending can also damage soft tissue. Repeatedly bending forward can strain low back muscles. Soft tissue damage can lead to muscle inhibition and weakness resulting in spinal instability and thus, accelerated spinal aging. Around and around it goes.

Sato, Katsuhiko, Shinichi Kikuchi, and Takumi Yonezawa. “In vivo intradiscal pressure measurement in healthy individuals and in patients with ongoing back problems.” Spine 24.23 (1999): 2468.

As previously mentioned, the average person bends forward 2-4000 times a day while backwards bending occurs only a few hundred times.1 Minimizing bending movements, proper lifting technique, and repeated extensions could be your cure to back pain. During the day be aware of your posture. Instead of bending through your low back, keep your spine straight and hinge at the hip. Keeping your back straight minimizes the pressure and the contribution from low back muscles. A perfected hip hinge can effectively transfer the load from your back to your legs while lifting. Another trick to counter forward bending is just the opposite, backward bends. Stand with your hands positioned above the buttock and bend backwards through a comfortable range. Backward bends are a perfect counter movement to individuals who sit for extended periods of time.

Forward bending will always be a part of our lives. Unfortunately, it has become a staple of movement and often at times when we require safer, more effective movements. Training your body to lift and bend with proper technique will likely take effort. You’ll need to train yourself out of your bad habits. Doing so, coupled with repeated movements into extension can not only abolish or minimize your symptoms, but also slow the effects of aging on the spine.

To discuss the health of your spine with a physical therapist, click the link below to schedule your free discovery visit at Buffalo Rehab Group.

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1. McGill, Stuart M., et al. “Coordination of muscle activity to assure stability of the lumbar spine.” Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 13.4 (2003): 353-359.
2. Nachemson, Alf, and G. O. S. T. A. Elfstrom. “Intravital dynamic pressure measurements in lumbar discs.” Scand J Rehabil Med 2.suppl 1 (1970): 1-40.
3. Sato, Katsuhiko, Shinichi Kikuchi, and Takumi Yonezawa. “In vivo intradiscal pressure measurement in healthy individuals and in patients with ongoing back problems.” Spine 24.23 (1999): 2468.
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