Weekly musings, 4/15/18: Rigidity and posture
Have you ever been told you “should” hold yourself a certain way because it’s better for you? Or that if you round your spine, you are loading the discs too much and you are certain to cause imminent damage?
The spine is designed to move in order to respond to perturbations, or outside forces that act upon it. Rigidity during movement doesn’t allow for any sort of response and it doesn’t feel good. Think about a metal rod. When you hit it, how does it feel? Now imagine that you are hitting a water balloon that doesn’t burst with the same amount of force. How does that feel and which object do you think is more stable? A spine that works well is one that is strong enough to return to its resting position, but supple enough to give when there is outside force that acts upon it.
In fact, in a 2013 study, researchers examined how well subjects were able to recover from an unexpected perturbation when their lumbar spines were in a corset that held them rigidly. This was contrasted with how well they recovered from the same unexpected jolt without the corset. The corset hindered the subjects’ abilities to recover their balance; without the corset, the subjects recovered more efficiently and in less time.*
A client came in recently who struggles with low back pain. She has made dramatic improvements, but still struggles with occasional bouts of discomfort. We were discussing her tendency to hold herself rigidly and her fear of moving her lower back. “I was told I should keep my lower back a little bit arched at all times and never let it round because of my disc extrusion,” she told me.
“Does it hurt when you let your back round a little bit when you bend over or does it cause your symptoms to flare up?” I asked.
“No, it feels really good.”
“Then it’s okay to do occasionally,” I responded.
Fearing movement isn’t helpful, just like always moving the same way limits mobility and strength going the other direction. If it hurts, don’t do it, but while strength is one of the best things you can do for your body, rigidity and strength aren’t necessarily the same thing.