Core rehab

The Lost Art Of Bending Over

One of my favorite clinical terms is “lumbopelvic dissociation”. What this basically describes is when an individual is unable to move their hips without moving their lumbar spine. For instance, bending forward (flexing) at the hips while maintaining a neutral lower back. That movement is called is a “hip-hinge” and I teach it often when rehabilitating lower back pain.

There was recently a story on NPR titled “Lost Art Of Bending Over: How Other Cultures Spare Their Spines” (February 26, Morning Edition) which talked about how (in general) western cultures bend over versus how those in other parts of the world tend to bend over. More specifically, how these differences can lead to, or avoid, lower back pain. What the observer found when traveling to other countries was that people working in rice fields or working in their gardens bent over in a way that made their back like a table, i.e. their backs were flat and their hips were bent. More often than not, an American performing the same task would round their back to create a “C” with their hips and lumbar spine. This is one of the mechanisms that can lead to lower back pain.

In the story, Dr. Stuart McGill, PhD, likens the mechanism to woven cloth which is repeatedly pulled and stretched in one direction. Eventually the fibers start to loosen and unravel. Similarly, the outer layers of an intervertebral disc, when continually pulled in a certain direction, start to “delaminate”, or pull apart, making disc bulges and herniations more likely. By learning the correct mechanics of a hip hinge many people can avoid an episode of low back pain or recurrent episodes of low back pain and people who spend their days working in gardens can do so without suffering from lower back pain.

The hip hinge is a necessary skill for everyone from weight lifters to pregnant mothers. If you are having trouble with lower back pain, sciatica or back and hip strength, please call Pro-Motion Chiropractic and Rehabilitation or seek treatment from a knowledgeable doctor, clinician or therapist.

Breathing and Low Back Pain

So often I have patients come in with neck pain, headaches, or lower back pain who exhibit something I call “paradoxical breathing”. Paradoxical breathing is characterized by inward motion of the abdomen with expansion of the chest and rib cage. This type of breathing utilizes “accessory muscles of respiration”, including intercostal muscles (those in between the ribs) and muscle of the neck, while excluding the diaphragm. There is a significant correlation between low back pain and dysfunctional breathing patterns.

The reasoning for this is that the diaphragm plays an important role in trunk stability and postural control. When someone exhibits paradoxical breathing, the diaphragm doesn’t descend (contract) like it should and instead rib expansion and lifting is used for inspiration. By constantly using accessory muscles for inspiration, those muscles start to have increased resting tone which can be perceived as neck pain and tension. In contrast, the diaphragm becomes weak and inactive.

There is a significant “co-contraction” between the diaphragm, the transversus abdominus, the lumbar multifidi, and the muscles of the pelvic floor which stabilizes the spine during movement (1). It has also been found that this co-contraction significantly reduces stresses on the spine by as much as 50% (50% in the upper lumbar spine and 30% in the lower lumbar spine) and reduces the loads experienced by the muscles of the low back by as much as 50% (2). When one of these muscles is injured or weak the co-contraction fails to reduce stress to the lumbar spine and musculature and can lead to injury and pain.

The good news is that the diaphragm can be trained and by practice and training the function can be restored and trunk stability increased. Breathing mechanics should always be assessed when treating patients with lower back pain and included with a specific core stability treatment plan when appropriate.

1. Nele Beeckmans et al., “The presence of respiratory disorders in individuals with low back pain: A systematic review”, Manual Therapy, 2016, Vol 26, page 77–86.

2. The Effects of Deep Abdominal Muscle Strengthening Exercises on Respiratory Function and Lumbar Stability. Eunyoung Kim, PhD, PT1 and Hanyong Lee, PhD2