Flexibility Into Back Bends

This question, from a regular reader, is very common, so I thought you would appreciate the answer I gave….

“Hi Lisa, 

I’ve done a lot of things; a little ballet, a little cheer leading, a little tumbling gymnastics, a little swimming and a whole lot of martial arts. I just have to keep moving, and I’ve never seemed to have a problem moving either until recently. I have scoliosis (more than 7 degrees to the lower right) and I’ve had it since I was in the 6th grade. I’m a fourth year student in college now and recently my instructor for my martial arts classes has been working on our back flexibility. I’ve never had problems doing back bends before but now I seem to have a huge problem.

We’ve been doing a back extension that is similar to a back bend with our feet in second position but we don’t form the bridge and we suspend ourselves in that position for a few seconds and then bend over with our feet never moving. At first I could do this about six or seven times out of the required ten, then it started going down, now it’s at about four. What happens while I’m in the suspended back extension position is a strong pinching pain on the right side of my back almost in the middle of my kidney. At first it will be tolerable, but then as time goes on it becomes intolerable and I simply have to stop. I have been wanting to gain more back flexibility especially with my back leg extensions, however I seem to have made no improvement over the years and have now developed this peculiar twitch. Is there something that can be done without having to see a chiropractor? I would like some advice as this would hinder me greatly in progressing with the rest of my peers as we are to proceed to the next level starting summer.

Also your Perfect Pointe Book is amazing even for martial arts in the “balance” and “back” sections with the Neutral Back and the Tripod Foot!

Thanks in advanced!
Frances”

Hi Frances, and thanks so much for your letter. I am so glad to hear that you like The Perfect Pointe Book! I have an amazing number of Martial Artists that have somehow found it, and have been having great results too!

Now, its hard to say exactly what is wrong in your back without assessing you, however, the following points should help:

First of all, doing those deep back bends is not a good way to increase your flexibility. Mobilising of the back must be done very carefully, and usually in a non-loaded position in the begining. This is important so that you start getting good flexibility all of the way through your spine, at all the different levels. To mobilze your back and increase its flexibility, make sure that you do exercises similar to the ones in the Thoracic Mobility and Spinal Mobility sections of The Front Splits Fast Flexibility Program. These semingly gently stretches really help loosen up all of the small joints in your spine in a safe way allowing more mobility, rather than forcing it.

When you go into deep back bends (unless you have very good strength to control your spine) you will tend to take movement from your most mobile points while the stiff parts stay stiff! This may be the reason for your pain. Excessive movement at one joint can often cause a ‘pinching’ pain at one localised point in your back. If this movement is repeated, then inflammation will often develop at that joint and it will become more and more painful with the same movement.

The trick to settling this pain, and being able to do these back bends would include:

* Avoiding the aggravating activity for a short period of time until you fix the problem
* Increasing mobility in the stiff areas of your spine, pelvis and hips through genle mobilising exercises (Not loaded)
* Specific strengthening of the deepest little back muscles around that area, and all through your spine
* Specific strengthening of your deep abdominals (Such as in our Core Stability For Dancers manual)
* Gradual progression of training the outer core muscles, with deep core muscles consistenlty engaged
* Progression to controlling all of these muscles into the back extension position
* Starting to do the back extensions very slowly and controlled, in a supported position, until full range of motion is achieved
* Finally progressing to the full exercise

This does take a little management, and thought, however it is the best process to go through for anyone wanting to increase their extensions, no matter what sport they compete in.

There are however a few other, more sinister, reasons why your back may be sore in this position, so a trip to a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor may be benificial in assessing the exact cause of the pain. Pain such as this could arise from:

* Spondylolisthesis ( a slipping forward of one vertebrae on the one below)
* Lumbar Stress Fracture (Can happen with repeated extensions under load)
* Annular tear (A small tear in the outside of the disc)

It is important to get any back issue seemn to as soon as possible, especially if it is getting worse. I would definitely recommend that you do not try to ”Work into” the pain as this will most likely aggravate it more!

I hope this has been helpful (and not too scary) but you only have one back so you need to take care of it!

Kindest Regards,

Lisa Howell

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