When looking at a spine – one of the key components to general wellbeing is the health of the intervertebral discs. If we keep them happy, the likelihood of back pain is much less. Research has shown that the mechanism of disc destruction is predominantly flexion or in layman’s terms: bending. Repetitive bending over years will result in disc destruction and ultimately back pain.
We currently have an epidemic of back pain throughout the world. One of the main reason for this is that we continue to promote flexion movement patterns at all levels including primary, secondary school, university, military, the exercise industry and the corporate sector. Performing spine destruction exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, burpees, back extensions, to name but a few, will traumatise your spine and places unnecessary strain on the spinal tissue. There are more than 250 research articles that have proved this. Professor Stuart McGill dedicated 32 years of research on spines demonstrating this both in vivo and vitro: on cadaver spines and living athletes.
With repetitive bending during your daily life, ie bending to tie your shoes, making a bed, or even bending forwards to stretch your hamstrings, or slouching while in front of the TV will eventually lead to disruption of the annulus within your intervertebral disc resulting bulges and prolapses and ultimately back pain.
The average patient age attending the Spine Health & Back Pain Centre starts from around 30 to 35. Normally after 10 to 15 years of doing repetitive flexion movements, the intervertebral disc in spines can start to complain. Heavy weight-lifting with poor technique can accelerate this process. I’ve seen numerous weightlifters between 20 and 25 years of age with significant disc trauma from heavy lifting with poor technique.
Younger patients under 30 that attend the clinic for back pain normally had trauma or certain predisposing factors such as hypermobility syndrome, scoliosis, leg length discrepancies, connective tissue disorders and certain systemic conditions such as SLE to name a few.
Core function: The function of the muscles surrounding the pelvis is to prevent movement. They’re there to stabilise the spine and form a stiff rod to allow kinetic energy to travel through the spine. Professional tennis player Venus Williams needs a stiff core to allow maximum power to travel proximally through her torso and shoulder during her tennis serve. Ronaldo needs a stiff core to allow maximum force through his lower extremity during the kick. Weakness around the core allows for energy leakage and poor performance.
Research has shown that the more flexible your spine, the more at risk you are for back pain. This myth of abdominal hollowing to engage a muscle called the transverse abdominus is highly problematic and results in spinal destabilisation. Encouraging flattening of the natural lumbar lordosis while lying on your back promotes flexion and places further strain on the intervertebral discs. Patients with discogenic pain won’t tolerate such movements. We see this in our clinic every day.
I do encourage motion of the thoracic spine. This is an area that tends to stiffen as a result of our work environment – for example, spending 8 hours in front of a computer. Ultimately motion will come from the lower back and neck to compensate for the lack of mid-back motion, resulting in overload and pain. The thorax houses the lungs which is responsible for oxygen uptake, by maximising thoracic motion we can improve respiratory function and ultimately overall wellbeing.
We here at the Spine Health & Back Pain Centre have helped many backs in the past and hope to continue doing so in the future with our main aim being ‘healing without surgery’.