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Body Structure and Low Back Pain

Authors: Marko and Dragi Bedina

Low back pain is the most common concern nowadays. The authors, having had some experience of teaching taijiquan and studying expert literature are investigating interconnection between correct posture and low back pain. In their article they lean upon domestic and foreign experts and are inviting the reader to see the endnotes for more thorough medical and professional research.


Incorrect posture is in fact bad or broken body structure and it is the main cause for chronic low back pain.

Low back pain is affecting up to 90 % of people at some point in their lifetime. Up to 50 %
will have more than one episode, says a well known Slovenian expert. And he adds, that up to 85 % of people with low back pain, despite a thorough medical examination, no specific cause of the pain can be identified. (dr. Košak [1])

Nevertheless, the experts agree that bad and incorrect body posture, especially prolonged one, causes such pain.

A typical low back pain is coming from the muscles (myofascial pain syndrome). Sudden pressure or prolonged incorrect posture produce in a muscle trigger points or muscle knots. The muscle cannot work properly and pain slowly spreads into larger area. It is also expressed as headache, dizziness, drowsiness, low back pain, tingling sensation in the arm etc. (physiotherapist Purkart [2])

Scientists nowadays are more and more focusing their attention on functioning and strengthening body muscles in order to reduce force on the spine and thus lower or cure back pain. Studies have shown, that people with back pain have much weaker certain back muscles. This causes greater instability of the spine and with prolonged incorrect posture the center of gravity shifts – usually forward. The forces of gravity are enevenly distributed among the disks of the spine and they wear out. (Predan [3])

Further in the article we shall focus on what incorrect posture is, its logical results and possibilities of establishing the correct posture once again. We shall take into consideration an excellent article by Beconcini [4], an expert of manual therapies, with whose kind permission we are reproducing some of his thoughts and pictures.

We can see on the picture three most common incorrect postures that are usually causing low back pain. The first two we recognize immediately, the third one has a problem of general body tightness.

The human body relates continually to the force of gravity. It is built up from various segments and good structure means well balanced relationship between these parts at rest or in motion.

If the body structure is well organized, its various segments must be aligned one on the top of the other: pelvis, abdomen, chest and head balance easily when their centers of gravity are in the same vertical line. Upright balance comes from the deep muscles which are mainly pushing against gravity. This easy structural relationship can be disorganized by many factors: injuries, emotional traumas, bad movement patterns and poor postural habits.

All the structures of the body; muscles, bones, joints, nerves, blood vessels and organs, are embedded in a matrix of soft connective tissue called fascia. Fascia is a continuous network throughout the whole body. As we struggle to move in the gravity field, the fascial web adapts to support our movement patterns. Fascia can thicken and increase its stiffness in some areas of the body in response to tensions and micro-lesions in the muscles. The continuity of the fascial network implies that changes will happen through the whole body, much as a local strain in a sweater distorts the whole sweater.

pulover Strain in a sweater
affects the whole structure.

Fascia net has very elastic, conductive tissues. Some scientists [5] study it as biomechanical regulator of the whole body. Distorted or damaged fascia can be re-organized through deep pressures and stretching for re-establishing the natural alignment of the human body. This connective tissue plasticity may explain the beneficial effect of many manual therapies.

A well-balanced body doesn’t feel pressed down by gravity. Even though it is pressing against the ground it is at the same time expanding upward. Expansion is the result of a balanced relation between the extrinsic muscles and the intrinsic ones. Basically, the extrinsic muscles are the voluntary ones that we control consciously to do whatever we want to do. The intrinsic are the deepest level mainly engaged in maintaining our position in the gravity so that we don’t fall over when we do our movements.

Injuries, negative emotions and over-use syndrome can cause an overall pattern of tensions in the body. For these reasons most of the people don’t have a body that is able to expand. Instead it’s limited by contractions. This poor biomechanical organization will lead to the myofascial chronic pain as well as other illnesses and problems.

vertical and horizontal inner expansion of the body

A well balanced body expands inside vertically and horizontally. Vertical polarity is our upright balance. Horizontal polarity refers to the arms and open shoulder girdle.

Only if the body structure is well-balanced across the planes, the body is able to find its internal extension. Especially important are correct structure of pelvis, diaphragm and shoulders. They constitute 3 important geometric rings: pelvic ring, diaphragm ring and shoulder ring.
In a well balanced body, the centers of all these 3 rings must be in the same vertical line.

The center of vertical polarity is the sacrum. The sacrum is the dividing point between the legs and the spine. If we want to achieve the pelvic extension we have to provide its horizontal position and find the connection between the movement of the legs and the top of the sacrum. The legs may be thought to begin at the top of the sacrum. Important muscules also connect legs with sacrum. Any imbalance of the pelvic ring is connected to an improper walking gait.

krogi In a well-balanced body, the centers of the pelvic, diaphragm and shoulder ring lie on the same vertical line.

Diaphragm ring is very sensitive and complex segment where the upper and lower body parts integrate, basic breathing movement begins here and arms and legs movement as well.

The horizontal polarity is an expansion from the spine through the shoulders into the elbows out to the hands. Shoulder ring plays an important role with big back muscles which connect moving of the arms with the spine.

Now we can see why we so easily distort these three levels with wrong posture. How often we unnecessarily keep one shoulder or hip higher than the other? Not to talk about bent spine!

When shoulder girdle is open, the vertical polarity can go through the neck up to the crown of the head. It is important how we keep the structure of our head. How often we keep it forward? Jaws play important role in good structure. Only after releasing the tensions in jaws, the internal extension of the neck up to the crown of the head will be possible.

We can easily see from the picture bellow troubles that will follow.

incorrect and correct head posture

Instead the energy would flow into the head it is stopped in the neck or actually sent back into the spine. It is not unlikely that thus some pressure or knots are formed. In taiji it is said that head is free as if hanging on a string – absolutely relaxed and unblocked.

So, with good body structure we keep all the centers of three rings on the same vertical line. Any deviation causes muscle strains which are the main reason for low back pain.

Imagine that we have more than 600 muscles; it is almost impossible not to damage any with prolonged incorrect posture. And to look from another angle – no matter how damaged the parts are we can smoothen and straighten them with proper structure and exercises. That is the golden rule that we prove again and again with practicing taiji. In taiji all the movement and postures are following the rules of correct posture and body structure because it is deriving its knowledge from traditional Chinese medicine. A good teacher of taiji allows no tolerance, because he/she knows that it would harm the students either physically or in the light of achieving good results.

Physical exercise is essential. We have to know that incorrect body structure has formed through larger period – maybe in decades – therefore it will take some time to straighten it back again. We have to straighten in body and in ‘our head’.

incorrect and correct posture

Low back pain is an increasing problem in modern world because of a low-quality life style in free time of most of the people with such pain. Because of their inactivity, fear of even stronger back pain or lack of time, they become more sensitive to other weaknesses that such life brings. They often gain in weight, especially in fat mass while muscle mass is reduced – thus less muscle mass has to carry heavier body mass which is a great burden on lower spine and other joints. The result of such life is pain – because of it people cease with sport activity and thus deprive themselves of certain good exercises that would otherwise prevent low back pain. (Predan [3])

Too often we skip exercise under the excuse of pain. There is also a deep rooted thought that body cannot be restored with aging. Doctor and professor Goodman reports that studies have proven that muscles can grow and become strong even with 80, 90 years old people; with the help of exercise even some bedridden people started to walk and regained vitality. The good effect of anti-gravitational activity of deep muscles on the bones is especially recommended; the bone mass increases and loss of calcium is prevented. (dr. Goodman [6])

As we have mentioned, deep muscles are pushing against gravity when we stand, sit or are in any static posture. In everyday life we mostly move around and when we are at rest, we usually sit improperly in our comfortable sofas, thus having not many opportunities to use deep muscles. In taiji it is the opposite; we move very slowly so that gravity can have its role and between almost all the moves or postures we stop for some moments. These moments are golden; we relieve all the muscles and tissues and body weight is sunk to the feet. Each time the body gets an opportunity to bring itself back into correct structure. So, not only muscles and bones – each time the whole system of nerves, lymph, organs etc. harmonises – that is, our whole self – physical and mental!

Low back pain is medical disorder associated with high direct medical costs and indirect costs such as sick leave and disability pension. Even though the latest world therapeutic recommendations put excercise on the top of the list, they still highly support pain relieving drugs. (dr. Jamnik [7]). What are the consequences we can imagine!

When we build a house or make any other product it is logical, that the structure for example of a wall, its foundation etc. must be right, otherwise the building will not stand long. The tower of Pisa is disturbing us for centuries because of its tilt. It is leaning only for four degrees but we know it will fall one day. How is it that we are so careless about our improper body structure and are not aware of its unnecessary negative results?

other articles

Sources quoted:

[1] dr. Robert Košak: “Low Back Pain”, Rehabilitacija, volume 9, suplement 2 (2010) p.3-8, e-document

[2] physiot. Barbara Purkart: http://www.fizioterapija.net/blog/trigger-point-masaza-bolecina-v-krizu/

[3] Uroš Predan: “Connection between strenght of body muscles with back pain” (graduation paper), Ljubljana: University for sport, 2012, 31 p., e-document

[4] MSc. Physics Stefano Beconcini: “Structural Bodywork”, http://tao-garden.com/chronic-pain-management-program/

[5] Mayers T. W: Anatomy Trains. – Elsevier, 2009, 295 p.

[6] dr. Anthony A. Goodman: Understanding the Human Body, Lecture 28: Musculoskeletal System (Montana State University), DVD, 45 min., youtube

[7] dr. Helena Jamnik: “Rehabilitation of persons with chronic widespread pain / fibromyalgia syndrome”, Rehabilitacija, volume 9, suplement 1 (2010) p.71-76, e-document

Seminar with Master Fu in Slovenia 2013

Master Fu at Bled
Master Fu Nengbin
12. generation of chen taijiquan masters
Ljubljana, 28th October – 6th November 2013

Master Fu Nengbin, who convinced us so well last year with his powerful performance, accurate demonstration and professional teaching, is coming to Slovenia again – this time even for one day longer! The program is concentrated on the afternoon and evening hours for the benefit of all those who have job at mornings.

This year seminar is meant to deepen our skills that we gained last time and were practicing them throughout the year.

Therefore the seminar will be more advanced and knowledge of the First old chen form (Lao jia Yi Lu) is the prerequisite.

Number of participants will be limited so book as soon as possible (at least up to 15th October).

More info and registration

Organized by: Association Taiji – Zlati petelin and Zveza WUSHU-TAIJIQUAN of Slovenia

download The Promise 2017 movie now

Yangshuo Tai Chi & Kungfu School 2013 Photoblog

Yangshuo Tai Chi & Kungfu School 2013 Photoblog

I thought I would share some personal experiences of the few weeks I spent training this winter. As usual the winter is a quiet time in school so you get excellent instruction of a very personal nature. I spent most of my time training-one-on one with Wangjian for five weeks with him giving me very detailed corrections on the Yilu Laojia. There was a masterclass for a couple of weeks and I was able to take part in that as well and train push hands (tuishou) which was fun.
Here you can see a few memories in the form of photoblog. Maybe some of the people you might recognize as each year the number of students is increasing. I owe many thanks to everyone who was at school and that made ​​the time I’ve spent (and will spend in the future) in school so worthwhile.

Yangshuo Tai Chi & Kungfu School 2013, a set on Flickr.

Roy Hanney - Learn about Qigong in ChinaRoy Hanney – is a university lecturer living and working in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. He practices taiji, qigong and yoga with a particular passion for Chen Style Taijiquan. In his spare time he makes films, authors websites and makes video art. He blogs about his encounters with Qigong and Daoist healing arts at his website: http://www.qigonginchina.com
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