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How Avoiding Back Pain Could Be As Basic As Muscle Memory


To say it simply our guest on today’s blog post is an Orthopedic Physical Therapist and a Back Health Specialist. She is the creator of the HEALTHY BACKS & BODIES™ Outreach , and we could not be more excited to have had the opportunity to speak with her.


Tanya (Weiker) Snowden, PT, CEAS, AOEAS, left her traditional clinical practice in 2001 to pursue her desire to be in the preventative medicine field, “I want to get to people ahead of the pain and injury versus behind it.”


According to Snowden, much of this comes down to re-training and re-patterning our bodies so that the ‘right’ movements and positions become the natural ones. But first, let’s take a quick plunge into how Snowden got where she is today and then how avoiding back pain is a possibility for you and your employees.


How She Got Here

Early in Snowden’s career, she was an Orthopedic Physical Therapist at The Cleveland Clinic. She specialized in all aspects of spine care. She took patients who had very complex orthopedic back issues and created the rehab for them, working to get them to a place of decreased pain and higher function. These patients ranged in age and level of compromise — from adults with two-plus spine surgeries through to high-level young athletes that had sustained a ‘random’ back injury considered too severe for their age and fitness level.


Snowden began to notice a specific common thread running between her patient population.


“During the education part of our early sessions,” she said, “I’d see the same disheartened expression on their faces, accompanied by a similar statement: ‘If only I knew this...3 weeks ago, 2 years ago, even 5 days ago… Why is nobody out there teaching this stuff before we end up so injured?’ These sentiments were expressed when learning about the basics of their backs, the structure of their spines, and most often when learning of the imperative nature of moving in a mechanically-correct fashion. Especially learning the fact that re-training their bodies to move this way was integral in healing and full return to function.”


By January of 2001, Snowden had become fiercely determined to get ‘out there’ — to be a person on the front end of back pain and injury, working in preventative medicine.


HEALTHY BACKS & BODIES™ was launched. You can read even more about it and all the great work they are doing here.


Snowden offers a very unique, physical therapist’s approach to back safety and injury prevention. Early requests for customized programs quickly led to on-site safety consultations. Engaging in employees’ workspaces to better understand a company’s culture, needs, job tasks, common injuries, and complaints. Tanya loves the on-site consultation.


This studying of Industrial Athletes in DC’s and Warehouses through to Cubicle Commandos spending the majority of their time in an office setting, led to the creation of job-specific, company-specific training programs.


Retraining Our Bodies And Minds

OSHA standards and guidelines are crucial to keeping people safe and creating ergonomically-correct workspaces. Snowden laments, however, that even with investments in ‘perfect’ workstations, if an employee doesn’t know how to ‘ inhabit’ their own body and move or position themselves correctly, it’s tough to expect absolute success.


After years of on-site observation, Snowden realized that the problem of poor body mechanics, ergonomic positioning, and subsequent injury is far greater than just a lack of knowledge or a lack of desire to perform tasks the right way. What became very clear is that many people’s bodies (not necessarily their brains & thoughts) have forgotten how to move the right way — how to pattern in a mechanically-correct fashion.


“Often, people plan on using correct body mechanics, yet their bodies have lost the ability to naturally perform the necessary actions and movements to complete the tasks in the correct fashion. Their bodies can no longer figure out the correct movements that were once upon a time, very natural. This body confusion does not happen overnight. As toddlers, we have great mechanics! Our bodies develop proper movement patterns at pre-programmed stages of our development, so, early on we move beautifully," says Snowden.


She explains then that gradually, as life takes hold, we often start to lose these proper positions and patterns. Our bodies progressively become masters at faulty movements and poor body mechanics.


“The brain always takes the path of least resistance. So we perform a waist-bend lift or we sit slouched in bad posture, and the brain kind of says like, okay, this was easy. And if you sit all day, and you sit in a bad posture, and you’re slouched, and your body starts to recognize that as a normal position. Or you waist-bend on and off all day to lift, and your body starts to perceive that as normal. That abnormal ‘normal’ starts to slide into the subconscious, and before you know it, your body forgets the correct place to be,” said Snowden.


We lift too many objects the wrong way, and our brains rewire.


It is dire to get our bodies to default with relative ease into the correct movements so that our minds can focus on safety. Lifting, moving, and posture should be like riding a bike — muscle memory. Snowden says, “once you train the body to know what the proper movement is, then body mechanics become so much easier. We’re born to be in an upright, open posture. We’re born to hip hinge and squat well.”


It is time to get your head in the right frame of mind. Research shows that 80% of adults will experience some kind of lower back pain.


Snowden believes — hopes and prays — that companies will drive focus to a safety culture so that people will learn how to move their bodies and practice proper ergonomics.


What It Comes Down To

So the fundamental point that Snowden makes is that, “In order to truly work proper body mechanics, we must first work on restoring proper body movement and positioning — the stuff that is underneath the mechanics. This begins with proper core posture — a simple way of stating that we need to first align and stabilize our spines.”


Re-training our bodies is a stair-step process. Each position or movement builds upon the one before it. If you are performing a proper squat, you are holding your spine in the proper position. If you are focusing on hinges, you are holding the proper posture. If you are holding proper posture and you move, you are properly hinging. If you’re performing a proper squat, then you must be in proper alignment. “It’s a pretty cool thing,” Snowden says. “It’s close to impossible to do one without the other. They all go together.”


Okay, so have we convinced you? You need to re-teach your body how to once again, default into proper position and movement so that you can keep your brain in the game and focus on all aspects of safety. Next week we are going to bring you some tangible steps on learning how to perform the foundation of it all - aligning and stabilizing your spine.


If you would like to contact Tanya today to talk more about HEALTHY BACKS & BODIES™, you can do so here.


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