Most people believe that low back pain is brought on by a specific event involving improper lifting techniques or twisting. This can be an incident that brings on back pain, but it is usually a small percentage. The most common type of low back pain is often brought on or triggered by improper REPETITIVE loading strategies of the spine. The average person will bend or flex forward 3500 times a day and will only bend backwards 100 times a day. That is a 35 : 1 ratio. The spine is a resilient structure and performing this ratio of flexion to extension would not have a large impact on our pain if performed 1-2 times a week. However, the cumulative and habitual effects of over flexing daily weekly or monthly can begin to have a negative effect on the spine, resulting in pain provocation.
The good news? If we break down the numbers, these cumulative effects can be reversed rather easily. By looking directly at the numbers, we can make an actual tangible goal.
When we look at the first half of the chart above we can see that on average we flex or bend 3500 times a day. Most of our flexion actually occurs in a seated position. An easy way to reduce the amount flexion performed daily is to monitor posture. It is estimated by correcting our posture and keeping a natural “hollow “curve in our spine as we sit. This can actually reduce our daily bending by 1000-1500 times a day. That now reduces our ratio to on average 25: 1 of flexion to extension. That’s a large improvement from 35: 1 as previously stated.
Now the average person sleeps 8 hours a day and is up 16 hours. Imagine performing simple standing backbends or seated backbends 10 x a day or about every 90 minutes. That increases our backward bending from 100 to 1000 times a day.
If we combine the posture management and back bending regularly, the ratio changes dramatically from 35:1 to 2.5:1. This ratio is safe and prevents low back pain. It is also enough to keep spine pain away. Our goal is to bring flexion to extension ratio closer to 1:1 as illustrated in the picture below.
Remember bending forward is not a bad position for the spine. There is nothing wrong with it and it should not be feared. Bending forward too much in respects to bending backward causes the unwanted strain on the spine. So, on days when you seated or repetitively flexed, pair those activities with back bending or extension to help prevent low back pain!