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Old 02-24-2006, 08:01 AM   #1
Jason Billows
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I was listening to an archived version of Crossfit Live last night (January edition). During the show, Coach Glassman talked about how stretching and pulling your head down towards your feet rounds your back and crunches your lumbar vertebrae, which can cause serious trouble. Similarily, he noted that the flexion portion of a burpee can be problematic for someone prone to lower problems as can those 45 degree back extension machines.

This really struck me. I have suffered quite a bit of lower back pain and had a severely heurniated disk in my lower back this past year which left me with absolutely no feeling in my leg and hunched over, barely able to walk.

I had always tried to stretch out my back in exactly the way that coach says can cause problems. Now looking back on it, I realize that I aggrevated my back by doing this without even realizing it.

However, I'm not clear as to why these movements are problematic while other, similar movements are not. For example, sit ups have a flexion portion of the movement that takes the lumbar curve out of your back. Why is a sit up any different?

Also, I'm surprised that more yoga practicioners don't have similar problems. I practiced yoga for years (Ashtanga and Bikram) and there were many postures that had you stretching and bending while rounding out the lower back, yet during that time of my life my back seemed stronger than ever.

Can someone elaborate on what's good and what's not and why? It has been a really long road to recovery for me and the last thing I want to do is reinjur my back due to ignorance.

Thanks for your help.

Jason


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Old 02-24-2006, 08:07 PM   #2
Kevin McKay
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great question I am very curios of what people have to say.
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Old 02-24-2006, 08:22 PM   #3
William Hunter
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"I practiced yoga for years (Ashtanga and Bikram) and there were many postures that had you stretching and bending while rounding out the lower back, yet during that time of my life my back seemed stronger than ever."

Jason, you've answered your own question. Stretching obviously works for you (it works very well for me too) and it should be included in your weekly schedule. All advice is not created equal.


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Old 02-25-2006, 12:19 PM   #4
Jason Billows
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Thanks for your reply William, but I don't know that I have answered my own question.

I know that all the yoga I did was very good for strengthening my back muscles, but that still doesn't discount the fact that some of the deep forward bends could have been damaging my vertebrae. I think of it in a similar way to perhaps cycling. Sure it may strenghthen your leg muscles, but the wear an tear could affect your knees in the long run.

I do think that stretching works for me because I see many benefits from it. I just don't know if those deep forward bends are also causing problems in the long run and I should look for alternate stretches.

I'm also unclear as to why Coach G would have said those types of stretches/fexion of the back could be problematic while sit ups are not. Hopefully someone will chime in here with an answer.

Jason
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Old 02-25-2006, 01:06 PM   #5
Chris Kemp
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Jason, your yoga would have most likely loosened up the hams, hip flexors etc which generally pull on the pelvis and contribute to lumbar pain. Whilst there is some lumbar rounding, it is generally controlled and unweighted.

The move Coach described was going past the limit of the hamstrings and then using the arms to pull himself further into the stretch so that the only way his body could accomodate the range of movement was extreme lumbar rounding. Similarly, because the flexion in a burpee happens explosively, it can be uncontrolled and exceed the bodies capacity to protect itself.

With sit-ups not only are the legs normally bent negating their influence but the flexion occurs mainly in the thoracic region before the hip-flexors take over and fold us at the hip.

Cheers, kempie
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Old 02-25-2006, 03:43 PM   #6
William Hunter
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I personally, and professionally, do not think that multiple deep forward bends are going to, in any way, shape or form, cause any long-term damage or "crunching" (whatever that means) to the lumbar vertebrae. In fact, I think it's quite healthy to stretch out your back in every direction.

Losing the lordotic curve while trying to control a significantly heavy external object, ie, a loaded barbell, is another matter entirely, and should be avoided at all costs.

I'm not crazy about the effects burpees have on my back, and find others ways to enter into metabolic hell.

Kempie summed up the rest perfectly.
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Old 02-25-2006, 10:33 PM   #7
Garrett Smith
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Just like yin and yang, flexion and extension movements (and strength ratios) must be maintained in a relative ratio to keep the back healthy. One is not inherently dangerous, only in the context of not doing enough of the other.

Balance is everything. Bend forward, bend back. Keep a neutral spine with anything more than bodyweight, I say.

Holding flexion stretches for extended periods (ie. longer than a minute, assuming no PNF-type stretches, this also holds true for extension stretches) is getting into stretching the connecting tissues (tendons and ligaments, the things that keep joints in their proper planes of movement) and is not a good idea.

There are two ways to stretch. One deals with the nervous system (ie. PNF, joint mobility exercises) and relaxes muscles, the other holds stretches a lot longer and creates "flexibility" through stretching the tendons and ligaments. I know which one I'd choose--I only do yoga for the relaxation at this point in my evolution.
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Old 02-26-2006, 06:20 PM   #8
Andrew G. Greenberg
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jason,

I would think about the distinction between having your hips/pelvis/low back in a flexed position all the time(flat back) versus flexing the low back from a neutral position. from the pain you describe it sounds possible that your hips are in flexion all the time.

as such they are probably pretty frozen in that position and don't want to flex OR extend all the way. i don't know exactly what Coach Glassman said so I can't really respond to your particular question, but I have always been of the opinion that hips locked in flexion SHOULD be put into a flexed position (and an extended position) to help reestablish normal range of motion. i can't see anything dangerous in flexing already flexed hips unless, as a previous poster mentioned, there was an external load.
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Old 02-26-2006, 08:27 PM   #9
Jason Billows
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Thanks for all of the info guys. Your posts helped to clarify things for me.
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Old 02-26-2006, 11:35 PM   #10
Mike Griffith
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Jason,

This is why a person has problems when bending forward or rounding your back. We have all heard of a ruptured or herniated disk and a bulging disk, two different injuries. Your lumbar disks are made up of an outer ring of tough, fibrous tissue called an, annulus fibrosus, that has a jelly-like substance in the center called the nucleus pulposus. Think of the circles of an onion with the yolk of an egg in the middle of it.

The tough, fibrous outer covering of the disk becomes more prone to tear as you age or through injury. Eventually, the nucleus pulposus in the center of the disk may extrude out through a tear, resulting in a herniated or ruptured disk. If nucleus pulposus pokes out far enough to irritate a nearby nerve, it can cause pain in your leg as well as your back.

This is why bending forward which is called spinal flexion can be a problem. It can compress the front of the disk and push the nucleus pulposus posterior or out the back. Most ruptures occur this way. Especially if you place a heavy load on your disks when you are flexed forward i.e. dead lift or squat with a rounded back. Herniated or ruptured disks can go forward or anterior but usually backwards.

If you have problems I would go to a doc and get an MRI. This will tell you how severe the injury is. It may be slight and just need some therapy or it may be more involved and need more attention. The risk is turning a mild injury into something that can nag at you for life. Plus do not ever take diagnosis information or remedies off a message board like this, which is the best way to completely jack your back.

People will have good intentions giving advice but they will not have enough information to really help and probably do more harm than good. Check out a book by a therapist called Maitland for your reference.

Griff
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