How different body positions affect your low back

Hi there: Have you ever suffered low back pain? If you have you’ll know that this isn’t much fun at all. I mean when you sprain an ankle you can still get around. Maybe a little more slowly but you can still move. Or if you hurt your elbow you can still use the other arm and probably both hands.

But when your back is out all bets are off. Normally our posture dictates how well our core fires, how well we move, our technique while lifting as well as our athleticism. Throw in an episode of low back pain and everything changes. This over-rides our normally optimal posture and causes us to move in altered ways. These compensatory movements are to protect us so we don’t put additional strain on the area.

Recently a colleague showed me a video that illustrates the differences in loading on the low back depending on the position the body is in.

For example the load on the low back is lowest when we are flat on our backs with straight legs. And the load is highest when when we are seated and attempting to lift something. The video by Dr. Ebraheim MD  is a little more than 3 minutes but is very informative and uses some great illustrations. Go and have a look.

A few of the ‘take home’ points from this video would be:

* lack of fitness would put you at an increased risk for low back pain

* prolonged sitting, whether it be at school, work or driving, never helps

* smoking puts you at an increased risk

* the worst possible set up is heavy lifting from a seated position

For me this last point really hammered home the purposed of doing ground-based resistance lifting. For example we perform the majority of our weight training workouts on our feet. This includes deadlifts, squats, presses and pulling motions. The video demonstrates very clearly how effective the legs and hips are at taking load, and potential strain, off the spine.

And while I really enjoyed this video I disagreed with one point that was made. Can you guess what it was?

It was at 1 minute 46 seconds of the video. The doctors lists a number of factors which may contribute to pain or degeneration within the lumar spine. One of the factors he includes is heavy lifting. I would disagree with this statement for two reasons.

1. The first is that heavy lifting does not injure the spine. Improper lifting techqnique injures the spine. For myself and for almost all of the people we work with we know that our backs feel the best when we are lifting heavily and using good form.

2. Spinal biomechanist Stuart McGill PhD presented some interesting research at one of the conferences I attended. He showed that the closer you get to world record power lifting weight the more stability there is through the spine.

You can hurt your back with light load or heavy load. It is not so much the loading as it is how you are trying to move the load. The difference becomes that with heavier load most people will compensate more and exceed the capacity of the tissue more than with light load.

Anyways, I’m curious as to your thoughts? What did you think of the video? And when does your low back feel the best and worst?

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ‘always moving forward’

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2 Responses to How different body positions affect your low back

  1. Charlie says:

    I know this is a past post but I thought would make a comment as well.

    I like your comment about the heavy load not being the culprit in regards to lower back injury but the posture/mechanics during the lift.
    As a personal trainer/kinesiologist one of the most important things I try to impart on my clients is that proper form and technique trumps is much more important that the amount of weight lifted. This is not to say that increased weight in strength training is not important but that you must first be able to lift properly with zero/or very light resistance before you can consider introducing a heavier load.

    I also train and instruct in the use of kettlebells(kb) in strength and conditioning training. I myself have attended instructor courses with one the first ever Canadians trained to instruct specifically with kb’s, Shawn Mozen: Agatsu Canada, and I have also been taught by a former World Champion and Honored Master of Sport in Kettlebell lifting Valery Federenko.

    This is a tool/style of lifting which has tremendous value for strengthening the core, posterior chain and developing the power from the legs up. However, when done incorrectly (this is a relatively new tool for North American trainers and not many have specific instruction with kb’s) there can be a great deal of tension/loading placed on the lower back increasing the risk for injury. As a kb instructor when working with new kb users I have to find the balance between using an adequate kb weight to load up the glutes and quads and not use to the upper back and shoulder to lift the kb but not so much weight that the lifter is unable to maintain proper pelvic tilt to maintain lower back stability. The primary focus is on form and technique. I know as an instructor/strength and conditioning coach I will be able to help an athlete or client achieve greater results by helping them develop the proper technique which will allow them to lift more weight for more reps thereby pushing them harder and increasing there chance for success and at the same time decreasing the chance for injury…A win:win in anybodies books.

    When done correctly lifts such as squats, deadlifts and kb swings are phenomenal for developing “core” stability and also sophisticated body mechanics/muscular coordination which is a major key to low back safety and athletic performance.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Charlie: Thanks for your comments and passion. You are definitely a true coach!

      KB posts are coming!

      Chris ‘always moving forward’

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