How do we prevent ourselves from losing hip range-of-motion?
Let’s start here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2016, it’s that there’s a posture epidemic out there right now and it has nothing to do with sitting at the computer. (Okay, it’s related, but doesn’t tell the whole story!)
Nearly everybody I see (and let me emphasize that when I say nearly everybody, I mean pretty much everybody), whether they present with a rounded, kyphotic upper back or not, cranks on their lower back all day to stand up and walk around.
The act of laying into the lower back for support pulls the pelvis into an anterior tilt and kills your hip mobility over the long-term. So we need to fix it.
The problem becomes two-fold because there are two important causes behind the low back dominance. First, sitting all the time. Yes, sitting at a computer is bad. And the worst part about it is the posterior chain tissue creep that causes our glutes and hamstrings to become long and weak. Not only does sitting on these muscles all day cause them to elongate and lose strength, but literally sitting on your ass will decrease blood flow and compress all of the tissues and blood vessels on your backside.
To summarize, your butt is long and weak. You have a long, weak butt. How appealing does that sound? My butt is becoming longer and weaker as I write this. Your long, weak butt is no match for your lower back.
The second issue involves your breathing patterns. The crazy guy at your office that’s been begging you to come to the yoga studio with him and meditate? He’s onto something.
Not to sound like a hippie, but our lives are way too stressful. Living in America, as great as it is, also kind of sucks. Because when you combine your bills, kids’ sports games, marital stress (which is probably related to the bills and sports games), deadlines at work, not enough vacation time, and a house renovation, the stress starts to pile up. You become a shallow-breathed mouth breather and your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight one) is always in the “On” position.
Instead of taking deep breathes, using the diaphragm, abdominals, and obliques to complete your respiration cycles, the accessory muscles of your neck and back take over the job. And guess what happens? As these muscles become hypertonic and possibly even short, your lats pull your lower back into a nice
lordotic curve arch and your head starts gradually moving forward as your body attempts to find a compensatory strategy to get more oxygen into your lungs. BECAUSE YOU LITERALLY NEED IT TO BE ALIVE.
And as your head moves forward and tilts back, your upper back rounds over to keep you facing forward (instead of facing upward, because that would be ridiculous). This gives your lower back even more reason to arch as it compensates for the kyphosis in your thoracic spine.
And your stressful life isn’t the only thing causing a breathing issue. Your body (specifically, your diaphragm) is designed in this weird anatomically asymmetrical fashion that actually promotes these breathing dysfunctions.
So if the stress of life wasn’t enough, you now have a back issue.
Let me try and summarize what I’ve theorized so far. Your back is dominant for two reasons: your long, weak butt and your terrible breathing patterns. Both of these are related to your stressful office job, low activity level, and anatomy & genetics (which you cannot change).
Your dominant lower back can cause all sorts of other problems in addition to disc herniations, including everything from back spasms to extension-related back issues like spondy. But other conditions aside, your tendency to rely on your lower back for standing, walking, and lifting pulls you into a near-constant state of anterior pelvic tilt. Over time, you lose joint mobility.
This joint immobility makes it nearly impossible to achieve a good hip hinge which means that instead of using your glutes and hamstrings to do things like pick things up or get out of your car, you’ll be using your lumbar spine. This repetitive flexion and extension, even under a small load, is the exact mechanism by which disc bulges and herniations occur.