Thoughts on Neutral Spine and Movement in General

I have been following the comments on my post on the neutral spine. The comments have been interesting to follow. The post was prompted by a question at my seminar in Seattle. I was demonstrating a squat and at the break the question was: do you tell the person squatting to keep their spine neutral. As I am sure you would expect my answer was I tell them to squat. For some reason this question and several others made me think. I was concerned that my answer had sounded flippant, that was not the intention. It made me think of some other questions where people asked questions about movements that seemed to focus on small movements or extraneous motions that really did not impact the desired outcome. It dawned on me that someone somewhere was teaching people to be aware of all this stuff. I know term stuff is not too scientific, but stuff does get in the way. Focusing on stuff that is extraneous is robotic. If we were building a robot and we had to program each action then it would be a whole different story. The body is not a robot; we do run motor programs, some a faulty and some are fine tuned. The body has to constantly solve movement problems presented to it by the environment, most of the time it finds successful solutions, sometimes it does not. In either case it moves on. Movement is flowing and natural, many of the problems we have today are due to lack of movement. It just seems that having to teach someone neutral spine by putting them in a supine position on the floor or plinth creates a fundamental disconnect. There is too much of a gap between the supine position and weight bearing on one leg – this is true for the athlete and the 82 year old lady next door. Unfamiliar and unnatural positions will not help the body to solve more complex movement problems. Gravity and ground treat everyone the same and gravity will always win! There is a simple solution to all this, get people moving by bending, reaching, pulling, extending, walking, stepping, in short natural movements that work through all three planes of motion. Good motion occurs through the center of the body; the center is a relay site that smoothes out movement and helps with efficiency. By thinking about the pieces and components the movement will be robotic, that is not what we want. I end with some pretty sage advice from my friend Steve Myrland who has a keen eye for movement: “Don’t try to pick the fly shit out of the pepper.” Step back look at the big picture.


At 2/23/07, 12:38 PM, Anonymous tlanger said...


In a way all good answers sound flippant, because they aren’t what the person asking the question wants to hear! ;) IMO it’s usually about chasing the pain or in other words people don’t want to focus on the human movement system when it’s their lower back that hurts. The most difficult concept for anyone to understand is that balance or the ability to deal with ground reactive forces and postural habits or how you deal with gravity largely determines the length tension about ALL the joints in the body and the core “transfer case” can’t do its job without the proper support below and above….

You are a true pioneer and someone who masterfully understands the human movement system; however, the average trainer, let alone client, doesn’t have the necessary confidence to take a step back and look at the big picture. A person needs to acquire enough knowledge to be comfortable without identifying “stuff” and thus, they need to be ok with having nothing tangible to hold onto while making an assessment. This notion of using critical thought and not spoon fed information is not an easy leap of faith to make for the person in pain or the person trying to help them. Its human nature to be drawn to the more simplistic notion that creates a “fundamental disconnect” – it’s easier to understand and it also just so happens to be how the medical model was designed via a reductionist thought process….

Just my two cents….

Todd Langer

At 2/23/07, 1:17 PM, Blogger Joe P. said...

I was thinking... What if the guy trying to lift the box has been instucted to both not-let-the-knee-go-past-the-toes; AND maintain a neutral spine? Would he need to call in a guru as a consultant? A few years back I read a great article where researchers studied one hundred santitation workers who worked at least 10 years and never had a back injury. They followed them out on the job. Their findings? They used a wide variety of lifting techniques. There is no one correct way.

At 2/23/07, 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the question. How long do you think it would take the sanitation workers to get their job done if they followed the knee past toe neutral spine usage?
Compared to these posts I consider myself the average training working in an average factory watching my peers taking up hours of clients time teaching the knee toe neutral spine. As stated in this article "the problem we have today is due to the lack of movement" Simple movement as stated "pull, squat, walk, jog, jump. My leap of faith is believing in "clean and clear documented words that everyone understands,planes of motion, reaction, anterior, posterior... Then it's up to me to continue the learning process.

At 2/24/07, 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unfamiliar and unnatural positions will not help the body to solve more complex movement problems. Gravity and ground treat everyone the same and gravity will always win."

I brought these points up often while attending my Pro Football Chiropractic conference this weekend during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. I must say that at no time did I hear "neutral spine" being mentioned. I must admit however that my colleagues can demonstrate some very compelling evidence as to doing isolated muscle testing in supine and prone positions - to see which muscles may have myofascial restrictions that are preventing normal contractions on recruitment leading to joint dysfunction. Clean those soft tissue restrictions out, manipulation to the abnormal joint segments and presto - strength/biomechanics is instantly improved. Now the question is how do you train those tissues/joints to maintain that correction? I admit that many of my colleagues seem to prefer to train in the same nonfunctional position they found the problem initially (testing is exercise/exercise is testing). I suspect though they spent much of the time talking down to the level of the audience and did not demonstrate/tell all.

I did enjoy wearing my Gambetta Sports Training Systems t-shirt 1 day. Truth be told I think there are many things being done right by all groups but before returning to play there must be a certain amount of functioning training (weightbearing) performed if treatment is to be successful.



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