Joyful Movement

Welcome to my blog. I've designed this site as a resource for existing and potential bodywork clients, and anybody else who has an interest in improving their relationship to their body.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Low Back Pain and Six-Pack Abs

Low back pain is as common as a double latte in downtown Santa Cruz. Our lifestyles, our culture and our furniture conspire to make us C-shaped retromorphs, hands affixed Tyrannosaurus-like to an imaginary keyboard. No wonder our bodies protest.

Biotensegrity Model by Tom Flemon
In truth, our spines are designed to float weightlessly, perfectly balanced by the precise and dynamic tensional “guy-wires” of our myofascia. The bones of our spine, the vertebrae, are not so much weight-bearing bricks as they are spacers and attachment points for muscles and ligaments. This is a concept known as biotensegrity.

It’s when some of those guy-wires become loose or flaccid—and then we do something requiring lumbar stability, like lifting a potted citrus tree—that problems arise. Lacking the lift provided by properly toned abdominal muscles, the spine essentially becomes a poorly aligned stack of bricks pulled catawampus.

Now before you hit the floor and double up on the crunches (“I thought you said we need strong abs!” Yes, I did, but keep reading…) here’s one more important factoid: rectus abdominus is only one of four abdominals (six if you count sides). Rectus gives us that glorious six-pack and makes you looks like a superhero, but by itself it doesn’t help your back. In fact, over-active rectus abdominus is implicated in de-activating one of the most important abdominals: transversus abdominus. You can actually contribute to the destabilization of your lumbar spine by doing too many situps and/or crunches.

So what to do? Careful instruction from a skilled pilates instructor will teach you how to activate all of the abdominals. I recommend one-on-one sessions at first so that you learn the proper technique, as pilates done properly is not as easy as it looks. It’s too tempting in a class to use poor form in an effort to keep up.

And remember, fluidity and adaptability are important, too. If you’re already a strong, compact fireplug of a gymnast, more pilates will reap diminishing returns. All things are better in moderation.

For a succinct introduction to biotensegrity, start with this excellent blog written by a senior robotics engineer at NASA: BeingHuman

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