Exploring Your Back

How’s your low back?

Low back pain can be a big problem for some of us. Discomfort over time, whilst sitting or standing.  If that sounds familiar, maybe you have the inner sense that it should be solvable, but haven’t yet found a solution. You’ve probably tried various exercise modalities, or healthcare professionals, but the discomfort is still there, stopping you enjoying playing or performing as comfortably, or as much as you would like.

One word you may have heard thrown around is lordosis. It’s the term for over-arching of the lumbar curve of the back. It’s a common habit. 

And commonly pointed at as the reason for back pain. It might be a symptom, but lordosis isn’t the real issue.

So what is it?

So often, people think of the area in pain as something to fix in isolation from the rest of the body, even from the rest of the spine. 

Which simply doesn’t make sense. Let me start with a question for you.

Where’s the bottom of your back?

Point to it. (Before you read on!)

Most people, when I ask them this, will point to the bottom of their lumbar vertebrae. Above the pelvis. Put your hand back there, if it’s easy. Move your back from there- shift weight side to side a little. How much of your spine moves? It’s an understandable choice: it’s where most people think of the back hingeing from.

But…your lumbar spine is simply the bottom 5 vertebrae of the whole of your moveable spine- which has 26 moving parts or vertebrae. Its an incredible piece of engineering, designed to support weight of everything above.

Anatomically, the lumbar area is not the base of the spine. Our picture of the back is built by years of imagining what’s there, rather than looking at an anatomy book. Barbie and Ken have a lot to answer for, with their swivelling waists, and legs that move at the side. 

What’s at the bottom of your back?

The pelvis is the bottom of the spine, with the 2-3 tailbone vertebrae below it. Find them for yourself, they’re just above the anus. I mention that, as we all know where that is! 

The lumbar area is the low middle of the spine, if we bring the pelvis into the equation. Which we have to because it’s attached. Literally. 

The central part of the pelvis is made of five vertebrae, fused together, and with the tailbone, it’s the lowest part of the spine all the way up to your back. Like a massive extra vertebra at the base. If you’re sitting as you read this, feel your sitting bones on the chair, and from there locate your tailbone.

Let’s ask the question again: Where’s the bottom of your back? Shift weight side to side from your tailbone, or sitting bones, and sense how much more of you moves.

Do you have a different idea of the length of your back now? 

When you can feel the lumbar spine is in the (low) middle of the spine, then you are sensing your back more anatomically. It also gives us more resources to help affect change. 

Not only looking at where the problem is, but helping from above: 

to ensure that the rest of the vertebrae are mobile enough to join in the work of the spine. 

And below: 

What you’re doing with the pelvis has a direct effect on the low back. So let’s find out if your habitual holding pattern is part of the problem. 

Try it yourself.

You’ll need to take responsibility for yourself if you choose to do this, and move only in a way that feels easy, safe for you.

Lie down for a moment with your legs long. This is a close approximation to standing. Feel the space behind your low back – the lumbar curve. You can do this with your hands if that’s comfortable for you. Where do the different areas of your back touch the floor, and where is there no contact in the contours of your torso? Which part of your Pelvis is pressing against the ground? Closer to your tailbone or your waistband?

Do the amount of movement that is easy to do, and don’t strain.Move slowly, and make small movements. Much smaller than you would usually do in any exercise class. We’re improving your ability in these lessons, not your willpower, so stay within your comfortable range. The movements shouldn’t hurt or strain you. If they do, Stop. Make the movements, slower, smaller, less frequent, or do them in your imagination.

1. Slowly bend your knees and bring your feet to standing. Whilst you keep your attention and awareness on the change of shape to the low back. When we bend the knees, and have the feet standing, we’re changing the tilt of the pelvis. Do you have more of your lumbar back (low back) on the floor? 

2. Tilt your pelvis slowly so your waistband goes closer to the floor, and your tailbone lifts. Keep your attention on the low back. Does it change shape? (If it doesn’t your brain is unconsciously holding on to the extensor muscles, (the muscles of the back). Even though we don’t need them in lying down. Repeat this movement, to see if you can become aware of the chain of vertebrae that make up your back, and if you can feel each vertebrae pressing into the floor individually, or if they press in clumps.

3. Leave that. Interlace your fingers behind your head (the skull, not your neck). Gently lift the head with your elbows and hands, seeing if you can roll over each vertebra as your head comes up. Repeat this movement, so you can see if you can sense the change in shape of the neck, and then as you make the movement a little more generous: the pressure of each vertebra as it changes its contact with the floor. Only go as far as is comfortable, and see if you can use your skeleton, rather than immediately switch on the abdominals. (When your head is a certain height, you’ll need them, but not before). That way we’re able to sense the skeleton more.

Leave all of that, lengthen your legs. Do you have more of your low back on the floor? If so, some of your extensor muscles have let go, and become better organised. The balance between the front and back of yourself has improved. Not through straining, or pushing, or building muscle, but in moving more intelligently. Something, as children that we do naturally. We spend more time upright in adulthood, and over time develop habitual holding patterns of the spine that don’t allow full movement and flexibility.

Either way, if it’s something that resonates with you, or you’re curious to improve, come to the classes this month and work with us further on improving the function of your low back!

If you’re a musician and would like to do an in-depth course, we’ll be working on this theme for our next Well Musician course next month (20th-21st May).

Get in touch if that’s of interest for you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s