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Low Back Pain Exercises (Our Favorite Brain Training Strategies – Part 4!)

Video Highlights

- Learning about convergence and divergence
- Muscle tone pathways in the brainstem
- Recommendations for frequency and volume of training

Hi. I’m Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance.

Today, we’re going to be talking about using eye movements for improving mobility in the low back. If you’re new to Z-Health Performance, we have been introducing ourselves this way now for a little while.

For the last twenty years, we’ve been working with world-class doctors, therapists, and coaches. So if you find this information interesting, you’re interested in a brain-based approach to integrate into what you already do, check out all of our free resources as well as all these blogs. Alright.

For the last three weeks, we’ve been talking about the low back. We’ve talked about having and finding positions of positional comfort and then working on restoring pelvis mobility as well as lateral gliding and rotation in the low back. We’re giving you a lot of different examples and ideas that you can try.

The reason that we can’t say, hey, here’s the low back protocol is that your presentation is gonna be different than everyone else’s. So there is some self-experimentation required.

Today, what I wanna cover is using the eyes as a part of this in a very deliberate way.

So we’re gonna be looking at a couple different movements. The first movement is called convergence.

Convergence basically means that the eyes are moving inward. And then divergence, meaning the eyes are moving outward.

Why this is critical is that the nerves that help make the eyes move inward, cranial nerves three and four are located in a part of the brain called the midbrain or mesencephalon. And when that area is looked at in the gait cycle and in movement, It’s very commonly associated with flexion.

So let’s say I have low back pain when I bend over. or I turn and bend over. Those would be examples of flexion or flexion with rotation.

So if you have pain in that position, we’re gonna be interested in looking at your capacity to converge comfortably. As we compare that then to divergence, divergence is when the eyes move outward. So if I was looking at something in the distance, My eyes must diverge. The nerves that control divergence live in the next area of the brainstem called the pons. And again, when stimulated or looked at in the gait cycle, the pons is very commonly associated with increasing activity in exstensors.

So instead, if I have back pain when I try to lean back or I rotate and lean back, that would be pain in extension. So if your eyes are involved in your low back pain, I’m gonna show you a couple of examples of exercises that you can do as a test.

So we’re gonna begin as always with a self-assessment. So I want you to start off in a neutral stance, try to get into your relatively comfortable or positionally safe posture as we’ve already discussed in the previous three videos. And what I want you to do is test your discomfort. So in other words, if you have pain in flexion, I want you to first bend directly forward. I then want you to rotate to the right and bend forward. and I want you to rotate to the left and bend forward. And notice where do you feel most restricted.

If you’re watching this and you don’t have low back pain, this is still worth doing. If I just do a forward bend and then I rotate and do another and another, I can probably identify one side or the other of my pelvis or my low back that is a little bit tight.

So what we’re gonna start off with is a neutral position with our head and body, what’s called a pencil pushup. So we’re gonna use a pen or pencil, something with a sharp tip. We’re gonna hold it out at arm’s length. We’re then going to focus on it with both of our eyes and we’re gonna bring it all the way in to either the tip of our nose. or the bridge of our nose. Both of these will work in this particular instance.

Once you’re there, you’re gonna hold for five seconds, close your eyes, and then push back out. and I want you to do that four to five times. Bring it all the way in, close your eyes, push back out.

It would be useful at this point to have someone you or to film yourself to see if both your eyes are actually converging. It’s very common for one to only move in and the other to do nothing.

If that’s the case, then watch some of our other videos on vision training. After you’ve done your five reps or so, I now want you to retest So go back and particularly test the position that was most problematic for you in the beginning and notice if your flexion has improved.

In my case, whenever I do a forward flexion, I feel more tightness on my right side. So what we’re gonna do now is we’re going to add some complexity to that by adding rotation to it. If you put your hands on your abdomen and you turn to the left, and turn to the right, you’re gonna feel some muscular activity occurring. Now, generally, what I’m gonna tell you to do is you’re going to turn away from the side that is more problematic for you. So in this case, I feel tension on my right. I’m gonna turn away from that. with my trunk, and then I’m gonna repeat my pencil push-up.

Again, five reps bringing it all the way in, closing my eyes, pushing back out.

After I’ve done those few reps, I’m now going to retest again and notice if I have greater flexibility and more comfort in my case it definitely makes a difference. So that is your first exercise if you have problems in flexion. Our second exercise is going to be dealing with extension.

Whenever we want to work on extension, we’re gonna do the same thing. We’re gonna begin by testing in neutral, turning to the right, and extending, and turning to the left and extending. Notice that all of these could actually be done seated in a chair as well. This does not have to be done only standing.

So you’re going to identify once again where do you feel tension. Right now, I’m going to stick with my right side as having maybe a little bit more discomfort in extension as an example. So now what we’re gonna do is we’re going to combine the pencil push-up with some divergence. The way that this is going to work, I’m going to take the pen, hold it out in front of me, bring it all the way in.

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But before I do that, I’m going to pick a target in the distance. either on the wall in front of you or preferably by a window, a tree or something that is twenty to thirty meters away. So we’re shooting in my living room.

So I can look out the window at the chimney of my neighbor’s house. So that’s gonna be my divergence target. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna bring this in and I’m gonna quickly shift my eyes to that distant target. Hold for five seconds. come back until this is clear and then back again. So now we’re combining convergence and divergence.

And I’m gonna do this both at the tip of my nose and at the bridge of my nose.

And really the focus here is on that distant target. We’ll do five to ten reps of that. Once again, we’ll now go back and retest our extension.

That feels a little bit better for me. Now, as opposed to the flexion where we turned away from the side, that’s problematic. We’re now for the rotational component, we’re going to turn toward that side. So if I have issues on my right, I’m gonna turn to my right.

I’m going to set myself again pick a distance target. Once again, I’ll repeat my drill. Pencil push up and the big focus is on the divergence component. I’ll do five to ten reps. come back to the middle and retest and once again much better for me.

So guys, this is a great way to begin utilizing the visual system to help again find some additional mobility and comfort in movement for your low back.

This works if you’re just trying to improve mobility, it also works very well in pain. If you respond well to this, try to do it throughout the day, maybe five to six times throughout the day.

We’re working maybe thirty to sixty seconds in total.

You do not constantly have to recheck the painful ranges motion, just make sure that the eyes are getting some appropriate movement. I hope this works well for you. Please let us know and good luck.

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