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Body Stiffness

This year a group of researchers investigated biomechanical causes of back pain. They used pain pressure threshold (PPT) which is a way of identifying how sore it is in a certain area of the spine. The expectation was increased stiffness or a less healthy spine, would be more painful. The results of the study found the opposite. Those with stiffer spines were found to have less pain, with PPT (1). Researchers reached a conclusion that stiffness comes from perceived protection. In that, stiff spines, are being protected, even after tissues have healed (My ‘Protectometer’ (2)).



Protective stiffness was put forward in the 1980’s by Dr Kirkaldy Willis (3). He postulated that the body will be unstable for decades before it stabilised or stiffened up. He put forward three different ways the spine degenerates. A fait accompli and rather uncheerful model!

Protective stiffness is likely why people get twinges and stabs or shooting pains out of the blue. Because we can’t feel the spine going all the time Dr Wickham devised a three-day rule for his patients to follow (What Can I Do..?). Twinges that take longer than 3 days to get better are likely becoming compensations that you get used to. After 72 hours if you are not better book in for an appointment. Getting used to compensations, changing body co-ordination and stability, below ‘the radar’, is how insidious twinges and stabs can catch us out. Reduced coordination because, I am used to my body compensating, steadily weakens, stiffens, and reduces mobility.

Protection as a concept is more than a limp as research into social pain shows the same area of the brain emanates physical and social pain (Chronic Pain). Protection in a wider sense from psychological injury (Psychological Damage… ) or social upset can affect muscles and joints, feeling just like a physical injury. Without the physically injurious event.


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  1. Glissmann Nim C et al (2021) A Cross Sectional Analysis of Persistent Low Back Pain, using correlations between lumbar stiffness, pressure pain threshold, and heat pain threshold. Chiropractic and Manual Therapies 29 (Article 34) Sept
  2. Mosseley L (2013-2017) The Protectometer – Physiopedia
  3. Kirkaldy-Willis WH (1985) Presidential symposium on instability of the lumbar spine: introduction. Spine; 10(3): 254.
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