Spine Stabilization for Low Back Pain

What is the spine (low back pain)?

The spine is a unique structure that can bear load and bend in six degrees of freedom (think left side bending, right side bending, rounding forward, arching back, and twisting both left and right); it can absorb shock and rarely buckles under load (McGill, 2015). Most engineers could barely dream of a structure that acts as the spine does. So how does the spine manage to pull it all off? Stabilization.


What is spine stability?

Perhaps you have heard a physiotherapist or fitness professional refer to spine stability, stabilization muscles, core stability, or core strength to relieve low back pain. However, has anyone told you what stability means, or how it applies to low back pain?


As I begin to demonstrate my own understanding of spine stability, I want you to imagine a fishing rod placed vertically with the reel end closest to the ground instead of imagining the spine (back). What would happen if you were to push (i.e. apply compressive force) to the very top of the rod? The rod would bend/buckle in one direction, usually in the direction of the weakest point. Now, suppose the rod was supported by guy wires, bilaterally, at multiple points down the rod and are connected to the ground on either side. If all of these guy wires have the same amount of tension, and you were to again push on the rod’s tip, what would happen this time? Well, hopefully, the rod would not buckle. What if the guy wires on the left were loose and tight on the right? The rod would buckle to the left. (Spine analogy used by McGill, 2015)


Now imagine this same situation, but instead of a fishing rod, it is your spine, and instead of guy wires, it is your trunk muscles. Spine stability is when we can keep the spine in its natural upright position (or neutral curves) without buckling under compressive forces and is created through the stiffness that muscles develop (McGill, 2015).



Why is it important?

Spine stability is critical to health because when the spine buckles or is not stabilized, injury can occur, even if it is a micromovement (McGill, 2015). These injuries to the low back can occur acutely; however, they are often developed chronically through repetitive or sustained patterns. Using the same imagery as above, we could imagine a few instances that would cause the spine to buckle. One would be if the guy wires/muscles create unequal tension and pull the spine in one way. This could happen from moving improperly or your muscles engaging at the wrong times. Another mechanism of injury could occur if you were to press with too much force on the top of the rod/spine or are carrying considerable weight. The spine can hold the most compressive force when it is in its neutral position. Once it deviates from this neutral position, it will buckle under less compression and be at a higher risk of injury. Therefore, spine stabilization is an essential aspect of low back injury prevention and rehabilitation.


How can I improve my spine stability?

To improve back health, spine stability can be trained by learning how to move while maintaining the spine in a neutral position. By doing this, we teach the muscles in your trunk and core to support the spine and prevent it from moving into ranges that can cause injury. For more information and specific exercises to train stabilization, please book an appointment with us.