How to keep your back healthy while bending


Have you ever heard that bending at the spine is bad for your back? If that were the case, wouldn't you expect the majority of people who do yoga, cycling, or gymnastics to have terrible back pain?

A company called Tech Insider recently released a video that stated "bending over at the spine puts pressure on the discs and leads to weakened collagen and back pain" and that the "spine was meant to stabilize, not move".

They literally could not have been more wrong.

The biggest problem with general statements like "never do this movement" is that it depends who you are talking to and what other variables are coming into play. It is true that if you have a recent disc injury, bending forward will probably be painful. But your body will tell you that it is a problem, because it will hurt when you try it. Once you have recovered, and the muscles of your spine have stopped guarding, bending forward should no longer be painful, and you should definitely do it! But if you have been training as a gymnast for years, bending forward to touch your toes couldn't be more simple and probably wouldn't take a second thought.

The spine is definitely made to bend, and to twist. In fact, doing spine twists is a really good way to get out of pain. When your spinal joints move, nutrients are being brought into the joints to keep them loose, healthy, and mobile. 

I think the big misconceptions come from a) advice for people who are injured that is taken out of context, and b) not understanding the difference between bending to pick up a pencil vs. something heavy like a suitcase or a barbell. 

If I'm picking up something light, it's totally cool to bend and reach however I'd like. There is extremely little risk for injury, and theres really no reason to need to guard for anything negative happening. 

If I'm picking up 100 pounds, though, I probably want to keep my spine stabilized and hinge at the hips. Due to the increased forces being produced, it is true that the discs will experience extra stress. Just like with any tissue in the body, there will be a breaking point. You could gradually train your discs to accept more and more pressure in this more compromised position, if you so choose. But for the majority of cases, we can relieve pressure and minimize injury risk during those rare events that we need to lift something super heavy. Even in a normal fitness program, we are probably only occasionally lifting something really heavy off the floor. The safest way to do this for the majority of people is definitely to keep the spine straight and use the legs to lift. 

So in summary... if you need to bend over, ask yourself 1) am I injured, 2) am I lifting something heavy? If the answer to both of these is 'no', please go ahead and bend as much as you'd like! If the answer is 'yes', it may be a good idea to brace your spine and hinge at the hips!

Happy bending.