Rehabilitation of the spine

Rehabilitation of the spine

Have you injured your back and you're worried it will never be the same again? Are you now retired and notice that everything is “stiff” and you feel you are getting old? Have you seen a loved one suffering with their back for years and you’re wondering is that your fate in the future. In this week's piece I am going to show you key exercises that will keep your spine flexible and pain free. To do this I am going to show you my favourite tool/apparatus to help you achieve this.

So to make your spine flexible and keep it pain free you have to think of the spine differently. Look at it as a well designed house, the spine is simply the link from your hips to your head so to keep that key piece in the middle healthy you have to make sure you maintain the pieces above and below flexible and strong.

1: Calf stretch flexibility: (Elephant)

Calf muscles are a key component for lower back stiffness and pain. Why? The calf is very important in everyday use at pushing us forward when we walk but there is also a massive factor that affects lower back sufferers as well. A huge portion of lower back stiffness and pain sufferers sit a lot due to work be it desk work and or commuting. In both of these cases your toes are pointed away, this is a shortened calf muscle position. Now look at your resting postures, resting on the couch and sleeping your toes are pointed away and the weight of a blanket makes them point further. Then there is the natural trip switch that happens to the body when we injure the spine or the muscles that surround it. I always think of the human body with natural trip switches (my father is an electrician and the circuits of wires and switches always resonated with me that if one thing goes off 2-3 other things can also go off). I'll give you an example of another one, every time a cruciate ligament is torn the hamstring muscle goes into spasm not the quad. So when you injure your back or it stiffens over time your calfs get automatically tighter, the body is defending itself. If your know what happens when the switch trips then you can help rehabilitate the spine. In this exercise you have your heels flat, knees straight, your lower back will round and your arms should be straight. Muscles you are stretching lat muscles, lower back muscles, hamstrings and calfs.

2: Rib flexibility: Mermaid

Again another area that we never think of when we notice our back getting stiff is the engine that drives you = air. You take 10,000 breaths on average a day and the cage that surrounds your lungs is a vital component in rehabilitation of the spine. Think of the lungs as your engine and the rib cage as the chassis that allows you to travel fluidly and efficiently. In daily life we all have habits and tendencies to use one side more than the other, a slight shoulder drop on one side can be seen with nearly ever person. Think about what side of the couch you like sitting on. Lying on the left side = left intercostal muscles (the muscles in between your ribs) short and right side muscles lengthened. This tendency to use one side more that the other causes you to be unbalanced and the fact you take 10,000 breaths a day compounds your over use of one side and there lies the importance of stretching your intercostal muscles so you can address this issue. On the reformer we use the mermaid stretch to help reduce the stiffness of the upper and mid back areas. In the first picture you can see the right shoulder is higher to the left which is stretching the right side intercostal muscles. In the second picture you are pushing away with a straight right arm again opening the right side intercostals and the reaching of the left arm causes a stretch of the left intercostals as well. A brilliant under utilised stretch.

3: Grip

Training abdominals in all fours: Baby elephant + long stretch:

So now you know which muscles to loosen when the switch is tripped but are you going to do these exercises everyday, no I didn't think so. So when you get these two muscles flexible, you have to build strength in your abdominals and shoulders at the same time. In the pics below there is so much of Joseph Pilates genius on show. The size of the foot-bar is quite thick, this really makes your grip work, as a baby the first thing you do subconsciously is grip, the second thing is you learn how to do it consciously. When your grip strength is weakened the next thing to go is your shoulder strength. This exercise challenges the grip strength first, then it works your shoulders and then your abdominals. Most people train abdominals lying on their back and to be honest that's the way I would have helped my back pain clients before I discovered the reformer, now we use this exercise in most of our classes.

Tommy ConwayComment