Have you been told to keep your back straight? Is that correct advice?
Through the years, you have probably been told to keep your back straight when picking something up. Perhaps you work in construction which can require heavy lifting. Or perhaps you are involved in care work where you spend prolonged periods bent over. It is a common misconception that lifting with a bent back or generally bending the back, can be the direct cause of back pain.
This belief can lead to avoidance of certain back movements. The spine has 365 joints in total; if our backs were not meant to bend, it would look like our thigh bone!
Why is keeping a neutral spine to avoid bending our backs not as helpful as we initially thought?
Avoiding a bent back when lifting heavy objects has been shown to help reduce strain on some of the structures in the back. However, lifting with a moderately bent back is yet to be shown to be significantly more hazardous than having a “neutral” spine.
In fact, studies have shown that sports that involve bending the back does not have a higher prevalence of back pain than those that keep a straight back. It is more so to do with the weight, frequency and intensity (training volume) of the activity in which the back bending occurred.
But my back hurts when I bend forward? Are you sure it isn’t bad for me?
Our bodies are incredible at adapting to the things we do, as long the exposure to a movement, such as bending the back and lifting, is gradual and tolerable. Even when you think you back is straight, is still bends to a certain degree whether you want it to or not. Furthermore, the key is to gradually exposing your body to a variety of movements. Whether that be bending or twisting your back, so that when you do go to pick up a sock from the floor or turn over in bed, your body will have the tolerance for these movements. It is when we avoid, don’t do enough of, or over-do certain movements, that it can cause pain. When you are in the very early stages of a flare up of back pain, it is alright to avoid painful movements like bending, as long as you do not avoid this forever.
So how do we gradually expose ourselves to bending?
The key is to get really good at various back movements gradually over time, rather than avoiding them. Gradually introducing a movement is known as “graded exposure”. Focus on altering the frequency, intensity, duration and weight of the action you are doing or position you are holding. You can progress each of these factors as your body adapts. If you are unsure of how to do this, discuss with any of our chiropractors at Spinavita how they recommend exposing yourself to a movement like bending at a pace that is best for you.
Written by Jennifer Barr