I’ve treated many sedentary people with chronic non-specific lower back pain through to young active athletes with sharp bouts of acute pain. We are all striving to improve ourselves athletically and sometimes this inner competitiveness leads us to injury.
Basic rules in technique are often pushed aside to get that new PB or that sub-3-minute Fran time, exposing our bodies to drastic amounts of pressure which can lead to inflammation/degeneration. Maintaining a neutral spine when under load and fatigue may help eliminate acute and chronic back pain.
If you imagine someone standing with a nice posture, they will normally have the pelvis in a slight anterior tilt, the lumbar spine will be in a natural lordotic curve and the thoracic spine will have its natural kyphotic curve. We consider this to be neutral.
When we squat and lower ourselves down, we can still maintain a neutral spine by hinging at the hips, keeping our weight on our heels, our chest up and staying tight through the midsection. This maintains the spine in its organised structure.
If you move away from the neutral spine, our pelvis usually posteriorly tilts and we lose the natural lordotic curve. This is what we commonly term the ‘wink’. Worst of all, the lumbar spine can also go into the flexed (wink) position. This is now away from the safe neutral spine and is no longer organised in a safe biomechanical format.
The danger with this is that the discs begin to build pressure as we move from neutral to lumbar flexion. This will certainly happen if we allow the ‘wink’. As the pressure starts to build in the discs, the annular fibres which make up the disc wall begin to fail and we can bulge or prolapse a disc. Repeating this sequence can lead to long-term disc problems and even cause sciatica if the bulge hits a nerve root. This is when we end up with horrible pain/pins and needles down our legs.
The most common exercise I see the ‘wink’ in is certainly the squat/thruster/clean. We require such great hip ranges of motion that sometimes we may compromise by letting the pelvis drop into the wink. This is caused by the hip extensors pulling down as tension, particularly the upper hamstrings, adductor magnus (specific fibres act as a hip extensor) and the glutes. The posterior tilt in the pelvis will now allow you to get into the deep position you require but at what expense? As the tilt occurs (wink), the lumbar spine loses its neutral position which shoots the disc pressure through the roof.
This is why it is so important not to sacrifice form for weight. Numerous times I have to correct the ‘wink’ because people want to add more weight. As a result, I see a fair amount of back issues. I cannot shout loud enough that keeping a neutral spine is so important. If you have to squat/clean above parallel to keep it, then so be it. In the meantime, work on the range of your hamstrings, adductors, and glutes.
This can be achieved through targeted stretches, specific strength work, foam roller work and sports massage.
If you need any advice then feel free to get in touch by completing the form below.