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Backbend pinching and hamstring/quad tension


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Hi everyone,

I often judge (to harshly) myself as a stiff person and i have been trying several methods to become more flexible, on advice from flexible people (yeah, you just have to stretch, push it, don't mind the pain it will go away, maybe you're getting too old (i'm 46 now), you don't do it enough, don't mind the soreness, try this, try that etc).

I am a Pilates teacher and where i feel my advantage in some exercises when it comes to my already pre-tensed muscles (planking, holding static positions etc), i definetely feel  that i'm too stiff. I got a fairly good knowledge of how "the body works" - but since i subscripbed to this course, my eye-opener was definetely RELAXATION. I used to go to bed and feel ache in my legs from tension and i had no clue on how to relax them and that that would be possible. It's still difficult for me to do, some muscles in my body are to eager to stay awake late at night when the rest of us want to go to sleep ;). Anyway, this relaxation part is so important to me - even if i am a fairly calm and relaxed person (on the outside), i now understand that i probably keep much tension inside (anger, sadness...life - whatever emotion or struggle). I'm sure i'm not alone, but this is hard for people to admit, i guess. 

Anyway, I startet this course a couple of weeks ago, and i have been doing the exercises around every third day, or more. I feel a huge benefit of the hamstring stretches, they are more relaxed and less aching. My questions are about the hamstring-quads AND the backbend:

1. My hamstrings are tight. My quads are also tight, and even though i feel my quads less on a day-to-day basis, they are (for the time being) the most painful (as in deep internal uncomfortable stretch pain) to stretch. In my head, when imagining both of these huge muscles really tight, i would think (logically) that this would not be possible, or would shorten the leg physically (haha with both musclegroups being tighter and shorter), or would create some kind of crooked shape in the hip-leg-lower back-region - which i don't have. How is it even possible for these agonist-antagonist muscles to be so thight at the same time ? Is this related in some way? My calf muscles are also a bit tight, but i can easily stretch them and it feels good right away, no pain, no felt tension here. 

So, can this be related? Are the quads the ones holding "back" the hamstrings in some way? It feels like it. Like the quads are holding myself up, they're my front "armor" but i feel they are also retracting (it's like they are always ready to figth but at the same time so scared), holding back - together with my chest muscles. And my upper back muscles AND hamstrings are tight/not working as they should/could.

 

2. When i do the backbend exercise on the belly with straight arms, it feels good. I can relax well into the pose, but i have my lower back pinching some. Not much, but it feels awkward. When we do this exercise in Pilates, it's less a stretch exercise and more a strength exercise. We tilt the pelvis to protect the lower back (so this pinching won't occur). But here, apparently, lower back is supposed to relax and not work.

I wonder which "mecanism" lies behind this pinching - is this muscles being squeezed or is it nerve pinching......it's more unconfortable than painful, but it feels a bit disturbing. I also have a client who felt this, without really feeling the stretch in the front body. She couldn't go deeper into the stretch because of the pinching. To her it felt like if she was hurting her body, not that it was very painful but she started worrying about this.

 

Thank you for your input and thoughts about these questions.

Vibeke

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Hi Vibeke,

Welcome to the forums! Glad to hear you're enjoying the program and finding the immense value of relaxation :wub:

Your first question is a bit unclear, but sure, it's totally possible for both the quads and hamstrings to be tight. Tight just means that the muscles resist moving into an elongated position. We don't feel tightness when our muscles are in our own habitual ranges of use because they are comfortable there and not resisting. There is actually more potential for issues when there is a huge imbalance in flexibility between agonist-antagonist - think of the hunched-over desk worker. Regardless, I wouldn't over-complicate things. You know what's tight, so you know what to work on :)

22 hours ago, Vibeke said:

I can relax well into the pose, but i have my lower back pinching some.

This is where Kit would walk over and put his hand on your belly and ask, "You call that relaxed?" :lol: The back bend sounds like something we're doing for our back, but it's really a stretch for the anterior of the body. When the whole anterior line is loose, we can get a smooth bend throughout the spine, but when it's not, the lumbar usually takes the load by default. You can force the stretch further upward by using tension to tilt the pelvis, as you mention, but we want to focus on relaxation in this exercise. If you feel pinching, simply lower the upper body until the pinching goes away and work on relaxing more deeply before raising it any higher. This might mean reverting to the elbow position for some time, but don't worry... before long, you will be back to straight arms and without the pinching!

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Thank you so much Nathan, for your answer and for trying to clear my unclear questions ;) .

I got your point about Kit walking in haha, and i'm sure this is right. When we think we are relaxed, we still got more to give....or release. I know understand this pinching in the lower back - no-one actually explained this in this way before - now, it seems so obvious. 

I (definetely) need more patience 😁

Thanks again!

 

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  • 2 months later...
On 4/9/2021 at 6:24 PM, Nathan said:

This is where Kit would walk over and put his hand on your belly and ask, "You call that relaxed?" :lol:

What a crack-up—but so true. The reason behind the pinching is interesting: what is happening (and having someone put a soft hand on the lower back while you try this will demonstrate this effect immediately) is that the body itself is trying to help you go further in the pose. As soon as you bend the spine backwards (unless you really are deeply relaxed) the spinal muscles on the inside of the curve automatically tighten up to help you go deeper—and because these muscles are working in a shorter range of movement than they normally do, they simply cramp, just like when you try to point your foot hard.

The general rule here is that any muscle asked to do work in its shortest range of movement position is liable to spasm. This is just how the body works—but if you feel it in your back, it will always be worrisome! And as Nathan said, the solution is always to bend the spine the other way, to lengthen the same muscles to relax them. Usually, you only need to do this backwards and forwards operation two or three times before the body gets the message. And, there's no doubt, that for many people, deep relaxation is the key to success in this pose.

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

I've not any extra explanation to add here, but I just wanted to say I felt the pinching in the lower back too. It was on the borderline between pain and discomfort for me. But a few months later, it has now disappeared. I'm not sure if it is continued stretching, the core exercises I started doing or something else, but it can get better!

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  • 3 weeks later...

For anyone who experiences pinching in the lower back on doing any kind of back bending, the deep cause is always that the hip flexors are too tight (and so the pelvis can't tilt backwards on the legs—and as you extend your arms (assuming a pose so these (psoas, especially) literally pull the back into further extension). This mechanism works with the 'body trying to help me get deeper in the pose' mechanism I mentioned above in my reply to @Vibeke.

So, if this happens to you, try stretching quads and hip flexors before you do any back bending, and see if this helps. Search for "wall-quad hip flexor" on our YouTube channel.

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