Like many things in life there are always myths floating around, without justification as to a where they came from or why they even still exist. Yet some hold them to be true. In the world of low back pain it's fair to say that if one experiences back pain they may be inclined to seek out chiropractic care to deal with their troubling back. I'd like to discuss the myths floating around regarding “bad backs.”
Myth #1: Stretching
There's very little evidence to suggest that training flexibility of the spine increases back performance, despite talk about the benefits of stretching ones back. Now, it's true that better performers tend to be the ones with better flexibility but within the areas of the hips and shoulders and not the BACK! These performers actually tend to be the “tighter” ones when assessed.
So what about the idea that tight hamstrings cause back pain?
Well, if we look at top performers, say in the world of basketball, they tend to have the “tightest” hamstrings. Tight hamstrings, in this case, can act as a loaded spring to which these individuals take full advantage of. Plus, “tighter” hamstrings provide a protective mechanism against potential ACL injuries.
Now for the confusion….. asymmetrical flexibility in hamstrings does seem to show some evidence towards back pain. So, stretching to reduce asymmetry in the body has a foundation to help improve the health and performance of ones bad back.
Stretching could promote or protect against injury depending on the individual for their given situation.
Despite it “feeling good,” spinal stretching could overload spinal tissues without the individual even being aware of what is happening.
Stretching spinal ligaments has been shown to:
- Cause muscle spasms
- Diminishe the stretch reflex
....which is a PROTECTIVE MECHANISM!
Mobility is important but loose joints without controlled strength, places the body at risk for injury and decreases performance.
Thus the idea of stretching is very individualistic and the emphasis of stretching a targeted tissue should be directed to improve a motor pattern to protect performance throughout a range as opposed to blindly stretching at an end range.
Myth #2: Strengthening - Rehab vs Performance
Strength of back muscles can't predict who'll have back problems now or in the future. However, muscular endurance of the back proves to be protective for preventing further future troubles.
Overall, back strength is important but it must be related to the task at hand and where and when forces are generated in the body. When generating power for a given task, it should come from the hips and not the back.
People who seem to have “bad” backs are those that tend to generate higher loads within the spine instead of the hips by over emphasizing back extensors and hamstring activation instead of hip extensors.
For example, when a person with a bad back performs a lift, they tend to not utilize their hip extensors.
It is more important to establish good movement patterns, which groove stability and structure in a given task or action to prevent injury. This is opposed to training for bigger muscles to “look” stronger.
Myth #3: No pain, No gain
I'm sure we've all heard this saying and in some respects can hold true to physical training and performance. But……. This does not hold true for backs.
If you are rehabilitating a bad back your objective is to be pain free in your selected tactics to improve your tissue tolerance/capacity. If you are training for performance then discomfort and pain may be a part of the scenario. So, before continuing on with your exercise regimen it's important to know where you are in your recovery and/or training.
Myth #4: Isolating A Specific Muscle While Training
Many times people will hit the gym or have a trainer take them through isolated actions in order to build strength and stability with respect to single muscle. This mindset has the recipe for disaster all over it.
If one isolates a single muscle function with a poor motor pattern further injury is highly likely. Muscles work in teams to build stability, strengthen and endurance across several joints during a complex task. Therefore, the task or motion needs to be trained and not a specific muscle.
These are just a few examples of the myths surrounding back pain. We must resist the urge to follow conventional wisdom, as it often can be misleading.
Back pain isn't a life sentence but can be very trying to experience. If you can recognize your “bad” habits, and yes we all have them, then you can move forward to correct them.
For a fresh take on dealing with your back pain, I can discuss options with you at WIN Health Solutions to help you get back on a path to recovery. I hope to inspire you, challenge you and motivate you to reach your desired goals. Just do me one favour, never give up! You have it in you to heal, perform and live!
McGill, Stuart. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance 4th Edition: Chapter 1: Laying the Foundation: Why We Need a Different Approach. 2009