Lean back…Today we are going to talk about Movement Pattern 3: Extension. This is always a tricky movement. First, there is A LOT going on here. Second, people generally do not like to arch their backs like the picture shown. We feel a little out of control, are afraid of pinching and grabbing-type pain, don’t feel stable/balanced, or just feel kind of stuck. As always, let’s simplify the movement first.
Instead of moving your back, try just moving your hip. Can you move each leg back AND without pain – making sure to keep your knee straight and without arching the back?
What about getting out of standing & taking your hips and legs out of the equation? How does your spine move when you are unloaded (lying down), and you don’t have to worry about supporting yourself. Start by just propping up on your elbows/forearms and see how that feels first. This can be a fantastic way to regain that normal curvature in your spine and even reduce pain or muscle guarding. Sort of like just putting an emphasis on the small of your back.
Once this position is comfortable, see if you can straighten your elbows out like the picture demonstrates. Again, quality of movement is always relevant, but for the sake of ease, could you do this while keeping your pelvis on (or close to) the ground without pain? If so, your spinal extension is likely not an issue. If not, you may not move adequately through your spinal column.
One way you could work on regaining this extension is to get in quadruped (that means hands and knees position – kind of like you are going to crawl). It is a method of unweighting your body and allowing your spinal column to move. Start by looking straight ahead and trying to let the middle of your back sag down. This will form 2 humps of a camel (your butt and your shoulders) or more like a smiley face. Next, slowly lower your head between your arms (NOT like the picture, because he is still looking straight ahead), as you arch your upper back like an angry cat and round your spine – like a rainbow. The sagging down part like the camel/smiley face position is the focus here. Ultimately, you are trying to move your spine through a full and unweighted range with the emphasis on extension.
Another aspect that could help to obtain greater range into extension is to incorporate your upper trunk more, specifically the lats. The lats are the big muscle group that goes from the back part of your shoulders and down the sides of your back. They are a powerful muscle group, but they tend to get tight often. Using a ball (pictured) or a chair you could lean down (like with the camel/smiley face exercise from above) and mobilize the upper trunk area as well. These are just a couple of thoughts on how to get yourself gently moving better into extension. Allow yourself permission to move in this way – it is healthy for you spine to go through its full, available range. If that range is not achieved while standing, find a better position. Break movements down. Keep mobile. Work into new ranges, but keep them pain-free.