My Back Hurts (Wait, so do my hips).

I have congenital scoliosis.

As I was exiting the birth canal, Nomgar, the fire dragon from the North, attacked me. I parried against his fire and claws with a ball of infant explosion and savagery described with adequate vim as Ginger Fist. During the battle, however, I over-utilized my supple infant tissues to dodge fire and inflict damage–as a result my spinal column was permanently skewed to the right.

That's me after defending the first assault. Good luck you sumumabitch!

To further protect my spinal cord from mythical bushwhackers, my body saw it fit to fuse two of my thoracic vertebrae together. The rest of my tissues, however, remained supple–leaving me with one bodily point of extreme stability while the rest moves with hypermobility.

The lack of mobility in my thoracic spine accompanied by hypermobility in my distal joints presents my T/L junction with an interesting conundrum–should it stabilize more or mobilize more?


It’s a great question. Since I am 3/8 meat head (6/8 of my brain still works) much of my training consists of heavily loaded barbell movements–most notably the hoist of the dead. I also think a lot of over head pressing.

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Because of my limited thoracic mobility, both of these lifts torque the hell out of my T/L junction. If you haven’t watched the video, go ahead and take a look at it. Notice where all of my spinal extension comes from–appears to me that it’s at T-12, L-1. This ain’t no good, son.

All this flexion and extension stress causes my T/L junction to lock–I mean it’s the Fort Knox of spinal segments. This starts a cascade of poop that runs swiftly down hill. Now I have too much movement it my lower lumbar segments that has led to either disc or peripheral nerve issues–maybe both.

Quick Aside: I know much of what I said made you go, well, Todd then stop doing this shit, ya dumb. Did you also have the thought, I hope he isn’t doing this with his clients that present the same way. Here’s my response: question number 1–shut up, question number 2–I don’t…I would never have someone with my issues put a bar over their head. I can do whatever I want to myself, but my clients deserve best practice.

Why is this important for you? Well, many people have limited T-spine movement. Many of those people, you might be one, or perhaps you train some, like to load up with the big lifts. Sitting and heavy barbell movements perpetuate a cycle of thoracic segment locking. To stay healthy, or to keep your clients healthy, a cost-benefit analysis is necessary. I’m going to stop overhead pressing with a bar–at least for a while.

We also have to develop strategies for spinal movement; spinal stability is discussed often, but it’s often forgotten that the spine is supposed to move with stability–not lock the hell in place. The big lifts are necessary for savagery, but they compromise spinal movement. So, we have to create balance with drills that promote spinal mobility with stability. Here’s what I did, in sequence, to unlock Fort Knox.

Another quick aside: I’m using this as an example–these drills are specific to me. Of course, they may work for you, or a client that requires an intervention, but I came to the sequence through a self-assessment and trial and error. Assess and see what works, everything is individually dependent.

Baby Breathing w/ Kettlebell Hold: Align in the baby breathing position–supine, knees to chest until sacrum is flush with the ground, feet together and knees externally rotated and thighs abducted. Spine is long and neutral. Grab a kettlebell by the horns (I use a 16kg) hold it over your chest and lock your rib cage in place. Now raise the kettlebell over your head–go as far back as you can without unlocking your rib cage and extending your T/L junction. Do a few sets of five diaphragmatic breaths in this position.

Explanation: This drill puts the T/L junction in a neutral position (mind is constantly locked in extension) and trains good breathing patterns–creating inner-core stability. The tension in the outercore in this supine position let’s the T/L junction relax and reset.

Quadruped, Lumbar Locked T-spine Extension Rotation: That name is way too damn long–I just have no idea what else to call them. Set yourself on the floor on your forearms and knees. Make sure that your toes are pointed and that your butt is rocked onto your heels. Place the arm of the side that you’re rotating to palm up on the small of your back–the other arm has the forearm on the ground, hand flat and open. From this position you’ll rotate in your T-spine by first looking in the direction your rotating, then turning your head that way by rotating your neck, then you’ll rotate with your upper-back. Your lumbar spine shouldn’t move at all. Hit a couple of sets of eight each way.

Explanation: This is a basic thoracic mobility drill–we’re working on creating good movement after putting the T/L junction in a better stable position.

Forearm/Foot Crawl: This is a bear crawl, but rather than being on your hands and your toes, your forearms are your upper-body’s contact point. Be sure to keep your hands open and palms flat on the ground while doing these. Forget about lifting your head, too. Try it and you won’t go anywhere–keep your neck in the neutral position. Keep your hips down–knees close to the ground. Do a few sets of twenty to thirty feet crawls.

Explanation: Crawling patterns allow  the spine to move around fixed points (our hands, feed, forearms, shins, etc.) Spinal movement with stability cements the changes we made with the first two drills and trains healthy spinal movement. It’s also a great shoulder centration drill.

I do these three drills in a circuit every day–sometimes a few times per day–persistence is necessary for change. I’ve been doing them for three weeks; my spine is moving more fluidly and the pain in my back and hips is dissipating.

These drills provide a good template–it’s your job to fill it in with drills on an appropriate level. Again, just because this is appropriate for me doesn’t mean it is for you or anyone else. It also may work for you–experimentation is necessary. Remember also, I’m not a fuckin’ doctor. If you have pain get it checked out.

Are you pondering Nomgar’s fate? He was my first post-natal meal.





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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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Todd Bumgardner
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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
2 Responses
  1. danielle

    i knew my thoracic area was a mess but doing yoga regularly has proved that even more! i can’t even do any overhead squatting without practically falling over. i’ve been foam rolling my upper back area for months but i think i need to move around more to try to see some results. its also extreme tightness in the back of my shoulder area (weird) but i have to try that baby breathing w/kettlebell hold to start. good post, i’ll let you know if i see any improvement!

    1. Todd Bumgardner

      Hey Danielle,
      Sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back to you.

      It sounds like you definitely need some t-spine mobility. My suggestion is to get screened by someone that uses the FMS and see what they come up with.

      Good luck!

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