This may seem like a silly thing, but you’d be surprised by how many people injure themselves simply trying to stretch out! It’s predictable–the new year’s resolution is to get fit, and in an effort not to get injured by doing any of the Top 10 dumbest things people do to injure their spine they start by stretching or by doing a yoga class.
On the surface, this does seem like sound logic. I mean, when posed with the option to take a crossfit class or a yoga class, which seems like the safer option (hint…it’s the one that doesn’t leave you tasting blood in your mouth halfway through the workout). Stretching has significant health benefits, but when you stretch in ways that are good for the muscle but bad for your joints, you are robbing Peter to pay Paul, which doesn’t move the needle forward on your health-o-meter.
When you are stretching in an effort to increase flexibility, the primary tissue that you are stretching is the muscle tissue. Muscles and tendons have a certain degree of elasticity and should be stretched. Ligaments, unlike muscles, are not designed to allow joints to move, rather they are designed to hold joints in PLACE. They grant stability to a joint, especially in the regions of greatest range of motion.
A few of the strongest ligaments in the entire body are the anterior and posterior longitudinal ligaments. These ligaments, found on the front and back of the spine, respectively, are the strength that maintains the integrity of the intervertebral discs. Without the strong outer ligamentous ring of the disc, and without the strong longitudinal ligaments, the squishy inner disc tissue would herniate out all the time, causing tremendous nerve pain.
Since these ligaments are the dam holding back the flood to pain and herniation, it would be wise to know exactly how these ligaments can get injured and how to avoid it at all cost.
In short, the disc and longitudinal ligaments become injured with bending and twisting motions of the spine. Unfortunately, many common exercises at the gym focus on these motions as a method of strengthening the lower back MUSCLES but at the expense of DISC injury. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I do not think very highly of straight leg deadlifts. This is a perfect example of placing your spinal ligaments in peril so that you can place resistance on your lower back muscles to exercise them.
So bending over straight at the waist, just as we were all taught to do in grade school is actually a terrible stretch, and unless you are in 4th grade, doing this stretch will most certainly lead you down a path of chronic lower back issues…which is silly because the main reason you are probably trying to stretch in this way is to prevent back issues!
So how do you stretch without injuring your discs? Four broad rules will keep you safe:
- Go slow
- Hold, don’t bounce
- Keep your spine straight
- Never EVER twist
These rules are not in place to allow you to be an olympic athlete. These rules are in place for one purpose only–that is to keep the integrity of your spine at all costs. Once you understand the anatomy of the spine and disc tissue, breaking these rules will seem like playing with fire.
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