A Healthy Back Improves Your Game

A healthy back can make a big difference.

If you are a sports enthusiast, a healthy back is a big plus. A common place for injury is the lumbar spine or low back. Building stability in the lumbar spine improves sports performance and keeps you from getting injured.

All backs, regardless of medical diagnosis or level of fitness, benefit from improved spine stability. The following comments regarding spine stability are largely excerpted from Stuart McGill, PhD (Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 2006).

All muscles are important.

The muscles of the back are designed to work in a coordinated fashion. Preferentially training a single muscle, even if possible, may compromise overall stability. Muscles that primarily function to stabilize individual vertebrae during movement (such as the multifidus) must be equally trained with muscles that stabilize the back more globally (like the “lats”).

Large muscles further away from the spine create more stability than small muscles close to the spine. However, small muscles close to the spine, such as the multifidus, provide proprioceptive feedback, a key component of neuromuscular control. Neuromuscular control is the ability to groove proper movement patterns to enhance stability and prevent injury. The brain needs to be able to “feel” the body in space through proprioceptive feedback and make appropriate corrections through neuromuscular motor control.

Muscles create force and stiffness.

Stiffness is always stabilizing; force may not be stabilizing. Force and stiffness must be balanced around the spine in order to protect it. Endurance and motor control are needed to enhance stability-rarely is strength needed. Ensuring sufficient stability usually needs only modest levels of muscle activation.

The geometry of the spine resembles guy wires. Stability depends on the base of support and the angle of the pull. The guy wire system is designed to work with the spine in neutral. “Hollowing” the abdominal wall will cause the spine to buckle at lower loads. On the other hand, “abdominal bracing” protects the spine. This occurs when all three layers of the abdominal musculature are activated at the same time creating “superstiffness”.

Experiencing instability?

Instances of instability are likely to occur at either very high loading when a minor motor error compromises stability or at very low loading when only a few muscles are assisting with spinal stability. Learn to keep the spine in neutral and avoid aberrant movement patterns to keep your back healthy and happy.

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