Today we’re going to look at lateral bending in the spine as a simple way to figure out what to do for low back pain.
One of the things that I teach a lot of our professionals is a very simple evaluation for low back and neck movements to say, “What is this client’s kind of dominant pattern?” Because if they’re having pain, they’re having discomfort in the low back, one of the things we want to know is how do you move normally and if we counter that, will that improve your pain?
All right, so that may sound complicated but it’s actually very easy.
For this you would either need a partner or your phone, so that you can actually watch yourself moving. All right?
But if you watched previous blogs we talked about the spine. One of the things that I mentioned often is that lateral bending movements where I’m tilting directly to the side, that is something that most people don’t practice with on a regular basis.
So it actually forms, for us, a very good initial assessment to get an idea of how your brain, your brain stem are working together to coordinate your body.
So if you have a lot of chronic low back, pelvis issues, one of the things that we want to look at is what is your dominant process whenever you begin lateral bending?
So let me just show you the two simple ones. I’m going over exaggerate them tremendously, but based on what you find in your own evaluation, we’re going to then show you a simple exercise that may be helpful for you. All right?
So if I was sideways here, and I said, “Okay, I’m just going to bend towards the camera.” Hopefully what we would see is a straight movement. So my shoulder, coming straight down toward my knee.
What you will usually see is either a flexion bias or an extension bias.
So what that means is this. I’m here. I say, “Okay, I’m going to bend toward the camera.” and as soon as I begin bending, my body actually begins also folding forward. All right, we would call that a flexion bias. Flexion.
If instead as soon as I began tilting toward the camera my body went backwards, that would be an extension bias.
Now both of those are kind of incorrect. Because whenever we move, we’re supposed to have a nice balance between flexor and extensor tone.
So if I see someone that constantly bends this way, what that tells me is that their extensor tone is probably a little high, the flexor tone is a little low, and over time that can disrupt someone the basic joint mechanics and that can cause some weird sensory input that people will interpret as back pain, and I’m choosing all those words intentionally, because that’s how stuff works in the brain.
Now, let’s talk about what to do about it. If I have issues with my side bending, and for instance I find that I am extension dominant in my lateral bending. What I want to do is experiment with a few exercises that will activate the flexors of the body. Now one of the easiest ways to do this is to do a little side step exercise using a band.
Now what you see here is I have a band attached here on the squat rack. Now if I hold it with my hand closest to the rack, alright, again, I’ll say that again. If I hold it with my hand closest to its attachment point, I get nice and tall, hold my arm by my side, and just practice some basic lateral lunging motions. So and you can adjust the distance from the rack or the strength of the band. What you’ll actually feel as you do this is it creates additional tension through the flexor muscles of the body.
So it’s kind of biasing us toward activation of the flexors. So again, if I was an extension biased person in my lateral bending, I’m going to do this on both sides of my body. I’ll hold it with the left hand, and then I’d have to turn, hold it with the right hand, and do maybe 10 to 15 reps of this kind of nice isometric hold with a lateral lunge. I would then come back and retest my lateral bend. If we got good activation of the anterior muscles, hopefully we’ll see an improvement in that lateral bend motion and also range will improve and pain will diminish.
So again, if I have that extension pattern, I’m going to do my exercises with a hand closest to the rack holding the band. Simple. If instead I was flexion biased, I’m going to reverse that. What I mean by reversing that is this, I’m now going to hold the band with a hand farthest away from the rack. So I’ll grip it now in this case with my right hand. Now I’m going to externally rotate my shoulder a little bit so everything’s in this nice compact position and I’ll do these lateral lunges.
If you test both of these, you’ll obviously find that they’re different. When I hold the band with a hand distant from the rack, I’m now getting a lot of tension and activation of my extensors. So this again, very simple thing that I can do to target areas of the body that may be less active than they should be.
So again, I would do that with both sides. Then I would turn to the camera, and retest. So again, it’s a very kind of “protocol-esque” way to address lateral bending issues, but I found this to be very effective take home exercises for people who have experienced lots of chronic issues with the low back and pelvis.
So best thing I can recommend, as I said, is get someone to watch you or film yourself, look for that bias, and then choose the appropriate band exercise to counteract your typical pattern.
If you try this you should assess again motion and pain before and after. If it helps you, something you want to do probably four to five times a day, get those 10 to 15 lunges in, is a very, very powerful drill. I’ve seen this fix many, many, many low back issues. Again, with one simple approach.
So give this a shot. If you have any questions about it, let us know.
Otherwise, go carefully, and good luck.