Do you think all backs are the same? If you do, you would be wrong. You might think that I am privy to this information because of what I do for a living but you don't have to be a physical therapist to figure that out. The next time you happen to go out shopping or spend time standing in a line take a look at everyone around you. You will see people standing up ramrod straight as if they are in a miliary academy. You will also see people slouching. People with large arches in their low backs, sideways curves in their back (scoliosis), or "humpbacks" in the middle of their back (excessive kyphosis).
Recognizing the uniqueness of each individual's spine is important. For instance, certain variations will be able to handle compressive loads better, whereas others may be a major reason why you always get a backache when you stand too long. Some may restrict your ability to twist your trunk while another may cause your neck to hurt or cause headaches.
While we can appreciate the many different ways the spine can look, we also realize that there is an ideal position that we would like the spine to be in. In fact, many of our treatments as physical therapists focus on trying to reshape the spine into a more ideal position. That's right, we are trying to stifle your individuality by trying to get you to conform. I prefer to say that we are trying to make you more ideal, or rather, perfect! Sometimes we can do that through exercise and posture education, sometimes we can do it through manual techniques (using our hands to move the spine) and unfortunately sometimes the spine is permanently stuck in a position that cannot be moved, in which case certain compensations can be taught to fix the problem.
The real take home message is to always consider your spine to be unique, particularly if you have back pain. Friends and colleagues always have helpful advice but what worked for them may actually hurt you, even if "my physical therapist told me to do it" If their physical therapist hasn't seen you, then she doesn't know your back and all of its particular subtle variations and I would be hesitant to take that advice.
Questions and comments encouraged.
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Yours in Health
Chris Ostling PT, DPT