Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Managing the Spine, Part 1

Low back injuries are very prevalent in the United States in the general population. Low back injuries are also one of the main concerns for strength training. One of my responsibilities is to strengthen clients without hurting them. Usually, it is a delicate balance of stressing the muscles without compromising the spine. Over the years, I have learned many valuable training principles that now help me safely and effectively train clients. Adhering to these principles will greatly reduce the risk of injury to your low back, either traumatically or gradually over time.

Principle 1: Always Maintain a Neutral Spine. Neutral spine position is achieved when the spine lies in its 'natural' position with good alignment of the vertebrae. All forces are dispersed evenly over the spinal column. Most people don't have a neutral spine position, even without movement. Even less people achieve this optimal alignment when they have to bend over or lift something. However, this is important and should be assessed standing, sitting, when someone moves, and whenever they lift a weight.

Principle 2: Hip Mobility Is a Necessity. The spine does not function in isolation. It is connected to the pelvis, which connects to the large muscles hip and leg muscles. When these muscles are not mobile (meaning you can move through a full range of motion with out losing neutral spine position, even under a load), usually the lower back or knee joint compensates. Most people don't have good hip mobility. No, correct that, most people have very poor hip mobility.

Principle 3: Scapular and Thoracic Spine Mobility is a Necessity. Like the hips, if the shoulder blades don't move freely when you raise your arms, then the spine compensates. Muscular imbalance is another issue for the scapulae. Typically, the muscles of the chest, the pectoralis group, are shortened and the muscles that retract the scapulae, the trapezious are weak. This is due to postural changes and inactivity, and the resultant rounded shoulders contribute to misalignment (flexing) of the spine.

Continued in Part 2...........

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