Back Facts: Use It to Improve It


In this series, Matt Penman Head Osteopath at Central Osteopaths presents ideas and dispels myths about the human spine.

As discussed in my last post, the Back was Made to Move, the human spine was designed to move, not to be held rigid as somehow it has come to be understood.

But when we are struggling to move, from stiffness or discomfort, how do we improve it without causing issues for ourselves?

One principle that I love, and one my patients will have heard from me plenty of times, is that of ‘graded exposure’.

Originally a concept from psychiatry for addressing behaviours and phobias, it’s easily applied to human movement behaviours.

The theory goes: the best way to overcome a fear of spiders is small incremental exposure to …spiders. With each exposure that doesn’t lead to harm (being bitten), and doesn’t lead to a strong protective reflex (panic), the brain ceases to associate spiders with fear and disgust, and we can normalise our response to finding them in the bath.

The same principles are absolutely applicable to the lower back.

If we are properly habituated to bending forwards two things happen:

First our nervous system will allow us to move into these positions more easily by adjusting muscle tension, and not protecting us with reflexive spasms (just like the panic experienced in a phobia)

And secondly our tissues themselves will adapt, strengthening to better support and control us in these positions.

Put it this way – the best way to squat 100kg is to learn how to lift every weight UP TO 100kg. If you can squat 95kg with ease, the odds of hurting yourself lifting 5% more in minimal. However, if you have only ever lifted 40kg before, you can easily risk overloading both your nervous system leading to muscle spasm, or worse, overloading your muscles or joints.

For those of you interested in moving and living better, Central Osteopaths is offering 10% of all appointments when you quote FB10 and book on 0800 6444 201

Read: Back Facts: The Back was Made to Move here

Matt Penman

Blog compiled by by Matt Penman M.Ost, Head Osteopath at Central Osteopaths


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