We’ve all been there, getting up in the morning and feeling like your back just doesn’t want to move. Whether it’s because of exercise the day before or that twinge you felt. There are loads of other reasons, and a stiff back is something none of us need. But recent research has begun to suggest that stiffness is actually just a sensation and not actually stiffness at all!
The research, carried out by Tasha Stanton, theorised that back stiffness was actually just a protective feeling rather than an actual biomechanical change to the mobility of your spine.
Now it should be noted that the sample size in this study is very small (that meaning the amount of people the research and its findings were based upon), and further research into this area is required for greater understanding, but that does not make its findings irrelevant.
The study asked participants how they felt their back moved, then tested this using a machine. The results were found to prove the theories of the researchers, that a reported spinal stiffness did not correlate to objectively reduced spinal mobility. People that perceived they had a stiff back were found to be no less mobile than the healthy control subjects used.
Alongside this finding they discovered that people with chronic low back pain demonstrated a protective profile, meaning they over-estimate the forces applied to them.
Finally, and possibly most interestingly, the researchers applied forces at the same time as playing sounds, one sound of a creaking door (associated with stiffness and immobility) and one of a “whoosh”(associated with mobility). The results showed that patients who were played the creaking door over-estimated the forces applied, indicating that they felt stiffer because of the sounds.
But what does all this mean?
Well, in short it means that your body is pretty damn smart. However there can be errors. Essentially your body will use the sensations you feel to protect you. But this doesn’t always work perfectly, as shown in this case. The stiffness is felt to stop you from moving too far and potentially causing re-injury. This is obviously beneficial but not necessarily all of the time. Your back is designed to be one of the strongest structures in your body, and in most cases injuries need to have some movement to continue their healing process.
So, next time your back feels stiff, just think, it could well be your body trying to temporarily stop you from moving as it thinks there may be a chance there could be an injury somewhere. The complicated thing is that this could be a perceived injury, and so there actually isn't any damage in the first place that is of enough concern to cause a serious problem. However it does not mean that your back is actually immobile, and you can still move fully if needed. I would even suggest that you do use that full range of motion, as long as it’s in a safe and controlled way.
In fact, movement can sometimes help remind the body that there is nothing to worry about and can actually help reduce feelings of pain and stiffness!
If your back is feeling particularly stiff or sore, please don't hesitate to book an appointment at the clinic on 02083047237.
Or alternatively book in for a Free 15 Minute Consultation to see if Osteopathy could help you!