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Lower back pain in dead hang

Matti Paalanen

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Matti Paalanen


I have a bit of a predicament and before going to an osteopath thought of sharing the experience as I believe it might be something that others have run into as well and would love to hear your stories.

My lower back area tends to have some kind of structural / unbalance problem which in normal life doesn't really cause problems but in some positions / stretches it sometimes has caused even lumbago out of the blue. For example once I was sitting in pancake stretch and when trying to get out of it my back just snapped and was really painfully "stuck" for days. One way that especially makes itself known is dead hang. If I try to dead hang from a bar and relax my core, the lower back spinal area immediately causes sharp pain which I can only alleviate by either causing tension in abs or some other way "not relax". Hence I am feeling that there is some unbalance / tension there which doesn't really get help from dead hang kind of relaxation and it feels bad because I think that I should be able to have the back decompress without this kind of pain / problem happening.

Usually after this kind of dead hang even for 10 seconds or so the back "stays in pain" and I have to do careful positional shifts and muscle activations in the lower back to "get it back to normal" again.

Like I said if I don't aggravate it it doesn't really cause trouble in normal day to day life and even in exercises but I probably have learned to intuitively "be careful" with it and there is probably some kind of preventative constant tension there that prevents the area from aggravating.

If anyone has similar situation and has found some ways to work it out I appreciate and stories! Like I said I'm going to see an osteopath and hopefully can get some professional evaluation regarding my own situation but I believe there is something quite generic going on that somebody else has had as well.

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When you dead hang and "relax" abdominals, obliques, psoas, QLs and TA,  your lower back (lumbar area) will go into extension. The zygapophyseal joints on either side of the spine may not be used to being in extension, and in some people this will cause muscle spasm. By "not used to" I mean that the sensory input to the brain (specifically, the somatosensory cortex) may be interpreted as "this position is strange, it might cause injury". The result is that the small muscles around each spinal segment (rotatores, multifidus) will increase in tension to try to provide "protection".

The "interpreting" I mentioned before is done in other parts of the brain. It's how any sensation from the body is processed. The sensation can be non-threatening (because you've felt it before) but it can still be intense. The sensation can be very threatening, even if it's not intense (think of a paper cut).

You have just learned that being "relaxed" is not always a good thing. The interpretation of the sensory input from your lower back is probably something like "lower back is in extension, can't feel anything supporting it, interpret this as pain."

If you want to learn how to tolerate dead hangs and lumbar extension, do some pelvic tilts and pelvic clocks while lying face up. If that feels ok, then stand a foot-length away from a wall, then lean back against the wall with your entire back contacting the wall. Do more pelvic tilts. Then do this with your arms above your head.

Then try a dead hang but with some abdominal tension, and small pelvic tilts. You get the idea.

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