Last week I discussed some misconceptions about stretching, including the myth that static stretching before exercise reduces injury risk. While it seems like fitness enthusiasts recommend more and more stretching across the board, there are some instances, like that just mentioned, in which excess stretching may not be a good idea.
Another case in which I highly recommend firefighters take care to not over-stretch is with the back muscles. Not only is this a warning from spine researchers, but my own scientific research has illustrated that firefighters who have more flexibility in their spines may actually be at greater risk for experiencing back injuries. This was especially true in extension, in which the spine is moving backward. The picture below shows a stretch that firefighters should avoid. Not only do firefighters want to avoid excessive lumbar extension flexibility, but an exercise like this unnecessarily puts tons of pressure on the spine and can cause back problems.
The results of my study may be a reflection of the fact that firefighters who have less mobility in their spines actually have more stability when performing work tasks that can force the spine into hazardous positions; therefore, they are more likely to maintain a neutral spine and avoid becoming injured in those situations.
BUT, keep in mind that back injury risk is probably only greater for those who possess too much back flexibility. So for firefighters who are severely limited in back flexibility, I still recommend doing an easy cat/cow stretch often. This will improve back pain associated with inflexibility along with the ability to move in an ergonomically correct fashion. See the illustration below.
Hold each “cat” (back up) and “cow” (sunken back) position for a few seconds and move slowly from one position to the next. Do not push too hard during the stretch and, like all stretching, it is best to do this when you are warmed up.
What is your experience with flexibility/stretching and pain or injuries? Share with us in the comments below.
If you’re not on my list to get more health tips like these, enter your name and email below.