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Lateral Shifting After Low Back Injuries

Have you experienced low back pain at some point in your life? Was it one-sided, or did it feel like it was in the center of the back? Do you recall experiencing a "shift" of your body away from the pain?

Low back pain is oftentimes experienced on one side of the back. This doesn't necessarily happen immediately after an injury; rather, it may develop a few days later. As healing begins, our body may shift away from pain, creating what we call a lateral shift. This is not necessarily a bad thing in the early response to injury; however, if the shift continues beyond the initial phase of healing, many compensations can take place and injured tissues may not heal properly. A lateral shift and is pictured below (the first picture depicts a left lateral shift because the shoulders are shifted to the left; the second picture depicts a possible curvature of the spine):

Upon initial glance, one might suspect a scoliosis (a sideways curvature of the spine); however, a thorough evaluation/examination should be performed to determine if a lateral shift is present. Scoliosis can often be misdiagnosed because the observed curvature may be the result of a lateral shift.

As noted earlier, lateral shifts typically develop after experiencing one-sided low back pain. Lateral shifts often develop to "unload" the healing tissue and/or spine, which again is very helpful in the early stages of recovery. If the lateral shift continues to persist, though, the "unloaded" tissue and spine will no longer accept load (i.e. body weight) properly and muscular compensations can develop as a result. Thus, we need to "reload" the side of the spine that may be injured.

A simple home exercise to "reload" the spine following the development of a lateral shift is the repetitive side-glide. Not all one-sided back pain can be cured with this movement, but it is often very effective at reducing pain and restoring normal function and tissue loading. The video below depicts a right side-glide, which would be performed if you're experiencing a left lateral shift as pictured above.

Try performing 10 repetitions in a given set and perform 3-5 sets per day. Should symptoms worsen with this movement, stop performing the movement as symptoms should not increase. It's always important to have a thorough evaluation/examination of your low back pain, but sometimes the side-glide can be an effective means to improving your general pain levels and mobility.

As always, we'd love to hear your feedback. Contact us with any questions or concerns!

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