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I'm a natural flexible person. I can't do a full split, or fit inside a small box but I kinda can lick my elbow and stood up and then put my hands on the floor with my legs extended.

But in the past two years I've hurt my supraspinous ligament twice in two different places (TL;DR: the ligament that runs over all your spinal vertebrae). The ligament would get inflamed in a punctual place and won't heal itself fast (months) unless is treated. I got an injection right in the inflamed spot.

According to the traumatologist, is not a rare injury in martial arts and it will happen if the ligament is compressed against the vertebrae or pinched between two spinous processes.

For me it wasn't anything special that caused the injury. The first time I think it was while doing abs on the wooden floor; getting the ligament hit with the hard floor and pressed to a lumbar vertebrae (or as pointed due the forward bending). And the second (last December/November I think, that I got treated just today on March) I think it was due a two person bridge; I just backward bend to the point where it seems I pinched the ligament between two spinous processes (middle back).

Now I know I should take care with hard floors during an abs routine, but the second fail-mode of my supraspinous ligament is avoidable? I just shouldn't bend too much?

How people gain flexibility on their spines without hurting them? I mean I didn't feel that I was straining my back.

I think that although my body is flexible, is not trained enough to resist the stress of flexibility training, I'm on the right track?

  • 3
    This would belong better on fitness.stackexchange.com. – Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '15 at 12:52
  • I think is relevant to martial arts since involve a rather common exercise in each warm up. My traumatologist said is also a not so uncommon injury among martial artists. (And they would reach first here, before fitness) – Sdlion Mar 14 '15 at 17:24
  • It's a good question, but the scope of it reads as one that fits better on Fitness rather than Martial Arts. I can see this being more applicable to a wider audience beyond martial arts. – Matt Chan Mar 16 '15 at 11:27
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The short answer is - you might NOT be able to get further flexibility in your spine without causing yourself pain or injury. Flexibility in general doesn't necessarily equate to safe flexibility. Ultimately, you're going to want to work close with a physical therapist for your back, but here's some useful information to help you make better choices in your training.

How Ligaments Work

Ligaments are designed to hold things into place - they do have some minimal elasticity, but like a rubber band, if stretched too far, they don't become taut again. Under these conditions, you end up with instability of the joints which is very dangerous. Normally this occurs by bad posture, extreme force/injury, or otherwise long term deformation (such as stretching exercises that no longer are stretching muscle).

Specific to the supraspinatus is the potential of a "shredding" effect caused by long term flexion (forward bend) of the spine causing the spinuous processes to eventually "poke through" the ligaments. (this sounds consistent with your description of symptoms - this kind of damage typically results in inflammation).

Ligaments and options

There is no exercise that repairs a ligament after it's been damaged. If a ligament is torn, this is where you see sports doctors go in and staple it back together, or, in the case of knee ligaments, they may replace it with a cadaver transplant.

What exercise can do, is strengthen the stabilizing muscles to keep the joint safe and take some of the load off the ligament, or, over the course of many years, slowly thicken the ligaments you do have (this is long term loading of the ligament, usually slow weights or stance training).

A useful question to ask yourself is if additional flexibility in your back will do anything useful for you, or if it's simply to chase the truism of "more flexibility is better" without regard for the specifics of your body? One of my kinesiology instructors works regularly with circus performers, and he pointed out that ALL the contortionists end up with back pain. Every one of them.

If you decide not to pursue additional flexibility - find out what is a comfortable range you want to keep, and focus a lot of stabilization exercises within that range of motion. It will be the safest for your back in the long run.

If you decide you do want to keep trying to get additional flexibility, you want to talk very closely with a qualified physical therapist who will look at your records and make a qualified medical judgment as to what is the best way to proceed.

  • Rather than a rubber band, which does return to shape unless it actually snaps (or is very old), I usually compare them to the springs in click pens. You can compress easily, but if you pull them out of shape, they don't go back to their original length. All in all a very good answer. – JohnP Mar 14 '15 at 9:56
  • I would like to point that the first injury it seems it was due forward bending and the later due backward bending (I still can't edit the question). But overall an excellent answer. I'm more interested in groin flexibility since there's some kicks I could do better. Still some of those stretchings involve forward bending, I will take care about that. – Sdlion Mar 14 '15 at 17:31
  • Yeah, but forward/back bending is "normal use" of the spine and not like a car accident or sudden whiplash or similar injury-inducing effect. So this is more about hyperflexion/extension and wearing down of the ligament than sudden tears. You should also have your PT check the angle of your hip sockets - some ppl cannot get full splits or beyond a certain ROM in the hips because of their bone structure - they often try to make up the difference by torquing the spine to change the hip angle. – Bankuei Mar 14 '15 at 17:41

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