Your Spine is Stronger Than You Think!

Low back pain is the leading cause of pain and disability worldwide. Statistically, the prevalence of lower back pain is increasing, so what are we doing wrong? Historically, people have often been told to rest or to strengthen their core muscles, and for many, that is not helpful advice to get to the root of the problem.

We need to change that message.  The structures in the back that cause pain, and the biomechanics of spine do not seem to be as important as we once thought they were.  We need to stop thinking that someone will break when their spine is put under load.  Our bodies are much more resilient than that, and it is never helpful to promote fear.  The spine is designed to move in all directions, and it is important that it does.  Telling someone NOT to move in a certain direction as it will damage the spine is both wrong, and can change their brain over time.  If someone is scared to move into flexion and tries to avoid it at all costs, when they have to move into flexion to tie their shoes, they will consistently be thinking that they could damage themselves.  Is tying up a shoe really dangerous?  No it’s not.

We can train ourselves to do almost anything, and the risk of injury is dependent upon much more than how we move.

Several studies have shown that spinal flexion cannot be avoided, even when trying to keep the spine in a “neutral” position with activities like squats, dead lifts, or a multitude of ab exercises.  If such movement cannot be avoided, no matter the loads or conditions, why do we teach people this will result in low back pain?  Fear and limiting beliefs about the fragility of the spine are hurting us more than actual movements.

People with low back pain need to hear reassuring, positive and empowering language.  A person who has lower back pain WILL get better; they WILL get back to what they love to do.  Almost everybody does.   As a Physiotherapist, it is important to ensure people with lower back pain are empowered to stay active and strong in ways that they enjoy.

One of the most important messages to convey to someone who is suffering from lower back pain is to remind them that they are strong, their spine is robust, and they will recover.  Each person needs to keep moving in ways that feel good, and temporarily avoid positions that seem to create pain.  The big word here is temporarily—once pain settles down, there should be no restrictions in movement.  Get back to everything!

The Shoulder Bone’s Connected to the Spine Bone…

So most people wouldn’t realize that your mid-back would be related to your shoulders, but if you’re sitting right now, try to slouch.  Go ahead, fully slump down… see how when you do that, your head pokes forward and your shoulders round inward?

Now from that position, try to lift up your arms overhead.  Hard to do, right?  That is because you need your mid-back to be fairly straight and your chin tucked to get full shoulder movement.

Most people spend too much time slouched forward, and over time your mid-back, neck and shoulders can tend to stay a bit rounded forward, or at least it feels stiff when you try to get out of that position. Your thoracic spine are the 12 middle vertebrae located between your neck and lower back, and connects to your ribcage. When it’s moving well, your back is happy and your neck and shoulders move well too.  If your mid-back doesn’t move well, you may develop some aches and pains.

Here’s why mid-back mobility matters:

  1. Improving your mid-back and shoulder mobility can help with headaches and neck pain.

Upright posture is important. When your thoracic spine is stiff, it’s harder to sit up straight and rotate your upper body. When your mid-back is rounded, your head automatically pokes forward, which can contribute to pain in the neck and even to headaches. But working on the mobility of your mid-back can give you more mobility in the shoulders and neck.

  • Better Overhead Movements:  when you’re slouching and your mid-back is rounded, you don’t reach overhead well.  You need a straight thoracic spine and tucking the chin back in order to achieve full overhead shoulder movements.  All of those people you see walking around with a forward head posture and rounded shoulders don’t have normal shoulder movements and can’t take a full deep breath.  True story.  Practicing an arch through the thoracic spine by relaxing over a foam roller can help improve mobility through the region.  Take a few deep breaths to encourage rib expansion while you’re there.
  • Smoother Breathing: When your thoracic spine is mobile, your ribcage can move well too, allowing your lungs to fully expand and your diaphragm to descend. This can translate to better performance in whichever activity you choose!

Hopefully you’re seeing it’s important to give your shoulders and thoracic spine a little love.

You might be surprised at how much improving your thoracic spine and shoulder mobility makes you feel better — at the gym and in your day to day life.