Bending with back pain

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

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back pain causes

Many people bend incorrectly at their waistline / top of the hips (figure 3) stressing the L4-L5 and L5-S1 segments rather than pivoting the pelvic bowl over the femur heads (figure 1). The degree to which the pelvis can pivot over the femur heads is dependent upon the length of the hamstrings which originate on the hips at the ischial tuberosities. As the pelvis pivots, the ischial tuberosities rise, stretching the hamstrings. As the hamstrings cross the knee joint, bending the knees provides slack in the hamstrings allowing the pelvis to continue its pivot. Thereafter, further bending requires spinal flexion. A moderate degree of spinal flexion is healthy, but excessive spinal flexion can cause or aggravate back pain.

Figure 1 correctly pivots the pelvis over the femur heads. Like a seesaw, as her head goes down, her tailbone goes up. Her tailbone rises to a 90° angle which demonstrates normal hamstring length. Notice how her spine remains relatively straight with its natural curves.

Figure 2 has shorter than normal hamstring length preventing her pelvis to pivot to 90°. To bend further, it would be more efficient to bend her knees to slacken the hamstrings and continue pivoting the pelvis, but since she doesn’t, spinal flexion takes over. This makes sense if her intention is to stretch the hamstrings and back muscles, but for someone with disc bulging and herniated discs, there is risk if spinal flexion is excessive. It’s a matter of degree.

Figure 3 demonstrates what happens when someone folds at the waistline / top of the hips rather than pivoting the pelvis over the femur heads. She either (1) has very tight hamstrings and overcompensates by excessively flexing her lumbar and thoracic vertebrae or (2) simply doesn’t realise where the most efficent point to bend is and folds at her waistline out of habit. Notice the limited degree of forward tilt of her pelvis and how her tailbone remains pointed downward as she rounds her back.

Hers is the case with a great many people who don’t realise that they are asking two or three lumbar vertebrae to cover a wide degree of bend even though the lumbar joint space is not designed for that range.

Transitioning from theory to action

Breaking habits is difficult. To feel how to pivot the pelvis: as your upper body lowers forward, move your pelvis back and away as if sticking your butt out. Like a seesaw, the tailbone rises as you descend. The spine remains long from head to tailbone. You’ll start feeling the hamstrings lengthening. At their maximum length, bend the knees for slack, but continue with the intent to pivot the pelvis forward, lifting the tailbone higher. Some people bend the knees, but it doesn’t help if they lose the intention to pivot the pelvis and leave the tailbone pointing down.

For more stability and length during descent, apply uddiyana bandha, pulling in the lowest abdominal muscles to the pelvic bowl and lumbar vertebrae. This creates an intra-abdominal pressure to support and lengthen the front of the lumbar vertebrae. This is even more important while rising from a bent position as there is more risk of compression while rising.

Leaning over a sink

Leaning over a sink to brush one’s teeth or to shave does not require as much of a pivot of the pelvis as shown in figure 1, so short hamstring length should not pose a problem and bending the knees not imperative. Still, I suggest bending the knees, and while the upper body lowers forward, move the pelvis back and away from the sink with the tailbone pointing away. If one feels the hamstrings lengthening, that’s a good sign. Additionally, as you initiate the movement, pull in the lowest abdominals as explained above and while returning to an upright position.

Lifting

If your back is inflamed or in an acute condition, avoid lifting. If you’re over that stage, and you know you can tolerate the load:

  • Keep the object close, directly in front of you.

  • Bend the knees to a squat with the tailbone moving away to maintain a long axis of the spine from head to tailbone.

  • Draw in the abdomen so that intra-abdominal pressure maintains length along the front of the lumbar vertebrae.

  • Maintain the object close while the legs do the lifting as you rise from squatting to standing.

  • Ensure the breath remains fluid throughout, not held.

Avoid lifting a heavy suitcase, grocery bag or water bottle from the side. This requires lateral flexion which is asymmetrical and likely to compress the discs of one side. If no other option:

  • Pull in the abdomen as strongly as possible with the intention of using that intra-abdominal pressure to stabilise the lower back and to maintain length along the front of the lumbar vertebrae.

  • Think symmetry.

  • Again, breathing is fluid throughout, not held.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.

 

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If you liked this post, you may like:

A breathing exercise for back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

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A breathing exercise for back pain

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

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When one inhales deeply, a number of back muscles get a good stretch. However, under periods of stress, one can habituate to a pattern of quick, shallow breathing where the back muscles don’t get the play they deserve. The result can lead to stiffness and compression in the lower back.

Let’s look at complete breathing then how to modify the breath in a practice designed to lengthen the lower back in a safe and effective manner to reduce compression of the lumbar discs.

Abdominal Breathing

In a relaxed state, the diaphragm muscle rests dome-like separating the abdominal and thoracic cavities. When the diaphragm contracts, it exerts a downward pressure, driving the abdomen forward. As the diaphragm moves down, lung volume increases but air pressure within the lungs decreases in relation to atmospheric pressure, so an inhalation takes place.
 
On exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes up to its dome-like resting position, reducing lung volume and thereby increasing air pressure, so an exhalation takes place. Abdominal breathing accounts for +/- 75% of breathing capacity.

Thoracic breathing

External intercostal muscles act upon the ribs, separating them to create more lung volume and less pressure, facilitating inhalation. Internal intercostal muscles depress and retract the ribs to reduce volume thereby increasing pressure, facilitating exhalation. Thoracic breathing accounts for +/- 20% of breathing capacity.

Clavicular breathing

Clavicular breathing involves the lifting of the clavicle bones along with the shoulders to draw breath in the upper regions of the pear-shaped lungs. It accounts for a small percentage of breathing capacity.

Full Yogic Breathing

Full yogic breathing utilises all three processes (abdominal, thoracic and clavicular) in that order during inhalation and in reverse order during exhalation. Practicing this, one will feel many back muscles stretching as well as increased vitality. However, we can also modify the breath to lengthen the lower back and reduce disc compression as in the following practice:

Breathing Exercise for the Lower Back

Lying with knees bent and feet on the floor, (1) we apply what’s known in yoga as mula bandha which is to contract in the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles between the sex organs and anus) as if sucking the pelvic floor up within the body, then (2) we apply uddiyana bandha which is to pull in the lowest abdominal muscles to the pelvic bowl and lumbar spine as if hollowing this area. These two internal “locks” stabilise the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae.

breathing for back pain

We next apply thoracic and clavicular breathing only. There is no abdominal breathing.

low back pain breathing low back pain breathing

Thoracic and clavicular breathing lift the ribcage up and away from the fixed pelvis thereby lengthening the muscles in-between on either side of the lumbar vertebrae.

Many people find it difficult to restrict abdominal breathing. To verify, one hand can be placed on the side of the ribs and one hand on the belly. Only the hand on the ribs should move during inhalation.

It is very easy to regulate the amount of stretch one experiences by controlling the depth or count of the breath. If one doesn't feel any lower back stretch, one has to breathe deeper or count longer to lift the ribcage even further from the pelvis. Conversely, one should not force beyond a comfortable lengthening of the spine. With not so many moving parts and by stabilising the lumbar vertebrae, this is as safe a practice as they come, and with 8-12 breaths a minute, one can consciously stretch the lower back 30-60 times in 3-5 minutes effectively sculpting the lower back in a way that provides relief from a compressed state.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.

 

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If you liked this post, you may like:

Bending with back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

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Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

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The majority of lower back problems I see in my back classes results from compression of the lumbar discs. Therefore, I focus on three main areas to reduce compression in that region:

  • Core abdominal strengthening
  • Hamstring stretching
  • Hip movement

When it comes to abdominal strengthening, there is a wide range of possible exercises one can do, but most risk arching the lower back which may compress the lumbar vertebrae even further. Practicing abdominal strengtheners in a supine position on the floor allows the floor to assist in lumbar stabilisation and provides a clear reference point as to whether one is arching the lower back or not in the execution of them.

Core strengthener 1

back pain relief - core exerciseslow back pain exercisesback pain exercises core strength

In the above sequence, keeping the knees bent throughout the movement reduces the load upon the abdominal muscles as they draw the legs in to the chest and then control their descent back down with eccentric contraction. Even so, the movement back to the floor is likely to arch the lower back unless one makes a concerted effort to actively press the lower back down. This effort requires both abdominal strengthening and posterior pelvic tilting.

In the above practice, stabilizing the lumbar vertebrae is more important than the actual movement of the legs. In cases of lordosis, where there is an excessive arch of the lower back, it is virtually impossible to return the feet all the way to the floor while maintaining the back completely flat. No problem. The beauty of this practice is that one doesn’t need to reach the floor. One can simply move back and forth within the range of motion that allows the lower back to remain completely flat. Core strengthening achieved safely with the least amount of compression to the lumbar discs!

Core strengthener 2

back pain

In the above practice, the movement of the leg away from the core risks bringing the lumbar vertebrae into an arched position. By maintaining the lower back flat during the outward movement of the leg, one engages the core abdominal muscles while stabilizing the lumbar vertebrae at the same time.

For those with a large arch, as is the case with lordosis, it will be extremely difficult to maintain the back completely flat. However, one can vary the angle of the extended leg. Extending the leg more vertically for someone with lordosis allows one to maintain the lower back stabilized on the floor while still engaging the core abdominals. In addition, one can regulate whether the leg is extended completely or only slightly (as shown) which will allow one to fine-tune the abdominal work safely.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.

 

1 Free Class

7 Classes

Other blog posts:

Bending with back pain
The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back
A breathing exercise for back pain

The second main area that we focus on in the lower back yoga class is lengthening tight hamstring muscles. To stay informed when new posts are published, please visit and like our Facebook page.

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The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

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Tight hamstrings limit forward bending. When one wishes to bend further forward than the hamstrings allow, many compensate by overstretching their spine and straining their backs. By lengthening the hamstrings, one reduces this risk.

Hamstring anatomy and action

hamstring

The hamstrings are three muscles that originate together on the hip at a the ischial tuberosity. The muscles continue along the femur before the different muscle bellies branch off, cross the knee joint and insert onto the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg.

As the hamstrings cross two joints (the hip and knee), they have an effect on both. When the hamstrings contract, their primary action is to flex (or bend) the knee. A secondary action is to assist in extending the hip. So to lengthen the hamstrings, we do the opposite: we extend (or straighten) the knee and flex the hip.

In the leg sequence of our lower back yoga class, we start with practices to warm up the hamstrings before stretching them fully and in a supine position to limit risk of compression to the lumbar discs.

hamstring stretch for back painback pain relief

In both practices above, the knees are straight, not bent, and the hips are flexed, not extended, thereby lengthening the hamstring muscles all while the lower back remains in a safe supine position with floor support. These simple stretches will enable freer movement of the pelvis, thereby reducing stress on the lumbar vertebrae in forward bending.

A note for those with knee problems

During the hamstring stretches, if you can straighten the knee, please do so, but the knee should not be locked nor hyperextended. In the first practice above, you can keep the knee “soft” while the femur and tibia form a straight line.

Some people have difficulty straightening the knee. Straightening should not be forced as one must honor the limitations within the joint capsule. For the first practice above, a cloth belt or elastic band is used to allow the leg to remain further away from the body which makes it easier to straighten the knee. However, if straightening is still not possible, continue with the knee slightly bent. Another option is to lie within a doorway with one leg up against the door frame and the other down on the floor through the doorway. As the hamstrings of the leg on the door frame relaxes into the length, you can gradually inch closer to the door frame.

For the second practice above, one lies against a wall with a pleasant passive stretch on the hamstrings. However, if the knees cannot straighten, simply move slightly away from the wall to make it easier for the knees to straighten. The idea is to remain comfortable while gently lengthening the hamstrings over an extended period of time.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.

 

1 Free Class

7 Classes

Other blog posts:

Bending with back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
A breathing exercise for back pain

The third main area that we focus on in the online lower back yoga class is hip opening. A post on that is upcoming. To stay informed, please visit and like our Facebook page.

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Image Sources: Forward bending illustrations



Low back pain breathing

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

Low back pain is often caused by compression of the intervertebral discs due to long periods of sitting with poor posture and weak muscle support. This breathing exercise lifts the ribcage away from the pelvis in a way that stretches the lower back and decompresses the discs. Good for disc degeneration, disc bulging, and herniated discs only AFTER a back crisis has passed and no inflammation is present.

Preview it here:

Take a free class

I have applied these principles in my lower back yoga class with twenty-eight practices to alleviate compression of the lumbar discs. If you'd like to try a free version with 7 practices, it is available as an iphone app. See a preview.

 

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Core exercises for back pain

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

Core exercises are important to alleviate back pain. However, many core exercises create more pain than benefit. Preview this exercise taught for 15 years in our lower back yoga class. You stabilise the lower back on the floor as you move the knees in and out at a range that suits your comfort zone.

Take a free class

I have applied these principles in my lower back yoga class with twenty-eight practices to alleviate compression of the lumbar discs. If you'd like to try a free version with 7 practices, it is available as an iphone app. See a preview.

 

1 Free Class

7 Classes



Back pain relief exercises - free iphone app

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

For back pain relief, preview our free iPhone "Floor Class" app - 7 practice videos in 10 minutes. Based on a real class taught since 2000:

 

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Feeling the difference between stretching and overstretching

Fredric Bender | | comments: 0

While stretching can alleviate compression, overstretching can be counter-productive. Lacking body awareness, some overstretch to the point of locking themselves into stiffness.

Within the muscle belly lie “spindles” which are sensory receptors that pick up the speed and intensity of a stretch. If a stretch is too fast or too intense, the spindles trigger a reflex arc to the spinal cord and back to the muscle to contract in order to avoid tearing muscle fibers.

One’s mind wants to stretch further, but one’s spindles intercede to protect. What results is that one equates stretching with a feeling of stiffness and resistance, simply locked into a contraction and going nowhere.

For this reason, I never instruct students to stretch. I encourage them to lengthen into softness and maintain that length patiently over time. This keeps the muscle spindles at bay. They habituate to the new length and fire less frequently. The muscles sense they are safe and can release deeper into the length. This slowly breaks the reactivity commonly found among those who suffer back pain. This also brings more differentiated sensation and a feeling of openness and space.

The student can then use the breath to refine the lengthening. In other words, rather than pulling on body parts to stretch or reaching for a body part as a goal or to mark one’s progress, one relaxes in a lengthened position, closes the eyes and uses the breath to explore the inner space, to gently increase volume, to decompress, to develop a better self-awareness and to connect within.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.

 

1 Free Class

7 Classes

If you liked this post, you may like:

A breathing exercise for back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

To receive alerts of newly published blog posts on lower back advice in your Facebook feed, please visit and like our FB page. like button



To be informed of future posts, please join my twitter feed or like my Facebook page.

Back pain exercise montage

Fredric Bender | | comments: 0

Making hard effort does not equate to a better result. Making smart effort does.

Take a class

I have applied these principles in my lower back yoga class with twenty-eight practices to alleviate compression of the lumbar discs. If you'd like to try it, it is available as an iphone app. See a preview.

 

1 Class

7 Classes

If you liked this post, you may like:

A breathing exercise for back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

To receive alerts of newly published blog posts on lower back advice in your Facebook feed, please visit and like our FB page. like button



To be informed of future posts, please join my twitter feed or like my Facebook page.