Spinal flexion is one of the most important movements that is often neglected. Common sayings like, “don’t round your back”, “stand up straight” and “keep a neutral spine” not only move us away from flexion, but build habits of avoiding it altogether. When avoided, it becomes weaker and is therefore prone to more injury. A vicious cycle leading to the deterioration of the movement pattern overall.
What is Spinal Flexion?
Let’s start with a simple spinal flexion fact. Comparable to other joints, flexion in the spine is stronger and more stable than extension. The difference arises with the stretch. Unlike other joints, when the spine is flexing it is also stretching.
For example, in the cat/cow pattern, cat pose is the stretch, not cow.
Extension in the spine, or a backbend is actually stretching the front of the body. In that process, the spine is compressing (less joint space).
Rounding the back with flexion is what creates space. This is why poses like child’s pose and happy baby can provide that spacious feeling.
Are you using IAP?
There’s a process in the body called intra-abdominal pressure, IAP for short. This is the idea of putting a small amount of air into the low diaphragm to create a balloon like affect in the trunk. This “pressure” then acts as a support system giving the spine stability it needs for active movement.
I like to think of it as a feeling you would have either on a roller coaster, when you jump up and down, or if a child was about to run up and punch you in the belly, but you were ready for it. A feeling that you use already in certain situations for protection of the trunk, maybe unknowingly.
Note: you should be able to talk breathe and move freely while IAP is engaged.
Once you learn to encompass this feeling of IAP, you can use that pressurization to assist the spine while folding in flexion.
Now flex that spine!
This is easier said than done. Sometimes the pattern is so far forgotten that it takes time to mentally figure it out and reconnect with the movement in the body.
Let’s work with lumbar (low back) flexion since it tends to need the most work.
Lumbar Flexion Stretch (low back)
- Stand with your back against the wall.
- Engage IAP putting air into the low diaphragm and pressurizing the trunk.
- Begin to press the lumbar spine (low back) firmly against the wall.
The act of pressing the lumbar spine towards the wall is the flexion or rounding of low back.
Create the shell, protect the spine and hold for “time under tension”.