I was watching Toby, our 5 year old, bending down to pick up his box of wooden blocks a few days ago. The box was reasonably heavy and a little awkward but this did not seem to deter him. He bent his hips and knees, also allowing his back to flex, then took hold of the box and while holding it close straightened up. He tottered with the box into the living room then reversed the process to put the box down onto the floor.
Why did this simple functional task get me thinking?
In recent years there has been a strong move away from this idea that we should be ‘bracing’ our backs before we bend and lift everyday objects. The notion of contracting your ‘core’ muscles, becoming rigid, not allowing your back to move before doing anything of a physical nature has been strongly challenged and is now considered by low back pain researchers to be very unhelpful. This way of moving, once considered the ideal, is now understood to promote pain, limit function and encourage people not to trust their backs.
By contrast, what has become clear is that by relaxing, trusting your back, trying to move with ease and fluidity, allowing movement to be unhindered by fear, even if there is some pain, allows function to improve rapidly and pain to ease more quickly. This approach holds true for the vast majority of low back pain sufferers where in most cases there is no structural ‘damage’ or other red flags.
I am pretty sure this revision in how we think about the low back and how it should be moving came about from observing children. We don’t teach children how to move, they move instinctively, trusting their bodies. Children also suffer aches and pains but they don’t overthink and are therefore less likely to become fearful of movement. It is their instinct to keep moving and this should always be encouraged. In most cases, unless there are red flags, the pain will be quickly forgotten about and life goes on, not too much fuss.
I believe, and many other experts would agree, that we should forget much of what we have learnt or believe about low back pain and it’s causes, most of which seems to be incorrect according to recent research. We should instead be more childlike, attune to our bodies and not allow unhelpful thoughts and erroneous beliefs get in the way of recovery. We should keep moving, be a bit restless, not want to sit for too long and enjoy a bit of play. Taking this approach, will in most cases lead to a far quicker recovery.
Let us know your thoughts on this topic when you next visit the clinic.
Image courtesy of Max Pixel