How the MECA Wedge Evolved
Part 1 – Have a Seat
There is one fundamental reason that many people suffer from back problems. It may be surprising but that reason is sitting. The simple mechanics of sitting, especially during the most developmental years of our lives, causes structural changes in the low back that left uncorrected, eventually lead to dysfunction and pain. As much as 99% of the back conditions we diagnose today can be traced to structural changes and dysfunction associated with sitting. Whether you suffer from degenerative disc disease, disc protrusion, sciatica, or other common low back pain diagnoses, chances are the structural changes that lead to the development of your condition came from sitting. It may be hard to believe, but biomechanical research has repeatedly shown that the act of sitting drives the development of many detrimental changes we see in the human spine.
The irony is that we sit during the most developmental years of our lives. Think about how many hours you spent sitting at a desk as a student. How often do you sit at work or home? We sit now more than we ever have before in human history and it is taking a toll on our backs. For further information on the negative impacts of sitting see, “Why You Need a MECA Wedge”.
The solution IS NOT to ever sit. Sitting is a necessity of life just as eating is. The solution is to educate ourselves on the negative consequences sitting has on our spine. We then need to use that knowledge and take action to offset those consequences. How can this be done? Let me introduce you to the MECA Wedge.
The MECA Wedge is a special foam tool uniquely designed to unload and relax the supportive soft tissues of the spine that are stressed from sitting. The MECA Wedge places the spine in a natural extended position, which is the opposite of its position when seated. This reverses the stress soft tissues of the lower back experience when they are stretched and fatigued from sitting. It also allows them to return to their natural state. The end result is a spine that is more elastic, resilient (adaptable) and less painful and less symptomatic.
Obviously this method works best as a form of preventative care to avoid back problems. Ideally the MECA Wedge should be implemented before substantial problems develop. However, even people who have been living with back pain for years or those suffering from advanced conditions can benefit by using the MECA Wedge.
Why use the MECA Wedge?
Don’t exercise and stretching do the same thing? Although exercises like yoga or stretching may place the spine in an extended position, they do not unload soft tissues (reduce tension and stress by forcing the spine into it’s natural position) in the same way the MECA Wedge does. Lying on your stomach and pushing your chest up off the floor will allow your spine to bend only as it CAN. The MECA Wedge forces your spine to bend, as it should. Most of the involved soft tissues are passive, meaning they will only move as they are forced to move by external means.
The counter pressure provided to the lower back by use of the MECA Wedge causes these passive soft tissues to remold back to a more natural state. Even more exciting is the fact that the MECA Wedge can be used as an exercise tool to protect the back from the negative stress created by performing abdominal exercises on the back or a ball… That’s right. Many traditional abdominal exercises thought to prevent and help treat back pain and disorders may actually be contributing to their development! Therefore, not only is the MECA Wedge an integral tool in managing back pain, but it is essential to use when performing abdominal exercises whether you suffer from back pain or not.
Part 2 – Is Exercise More Harmful Than Sitting on the Couch?
A fitness enthusiast himself, Dr. Jeffrey Anderson (the creator of the MECA Wedge) observed problems with his own lower back that he could directly attribute to common abdominal exercises. Exercises like crunches or a hanging leg raise would aggravate his lower back within hours or days. Dr. Anderson had a revelation and after extensive research and investigation concluded these exercises are inherently harmful to the lower back. Although they may strengthen abdominal muscles, it comes at a price.
Many of these exercises place the pelvis in an unnatural posterior, or backward, tilted position. Our spines are being conditioned to flatten and we are losing the natural and essential curve of the lumbar spine. This eventually leads to dysfunction and pain. For this reason, athletes actually have a higher percentage of disc herniations and degenerative disc disease at a younger age than the rest of the population. Now that we understand how traditional abdominal exercises decrease our lumbar spine curve, the reason for this increased rate becomes obvious.
Having worked with numerous athletes over the years, both professional and amateur Dr. Anderson understood they frequently perform abdominal exercises. Dr. Anderson also knew that in order to protect their backs, the traditional abdominal exercises of these athletes had to be fundamentally changed. Dr. Anderson began having his athlete patients place a piece of supportive foam under their lower back. This served to align their spine in an ideal extended position and maintain their lumbar curve. The results were amazing. Not only did their lower back pain improve, but also the effects of the abdominal exercises were enhanced by the use of the foam. These benefits encouraged the athletes to become diligent with their use of the MECA Wedge in their exercise regimen and their back problems soon became a distant memory.
The MECA Wedge was invented through years of observing patients in clinical practice. Early on in his career Dr. Anderson had formed a fundamental understanding of how the lower back changes throughout life. The lumbar curve of the spine seems to decrease over time. After looking at thousands of human spines via gross observation, x-ray and MRI, it became apparent to Dr. Anderson why this change occurs. The fact that we sit so often coupled with the unsound abdominal exercises that are often prescribed for lower back treatment are two principal contributing factors.
The idea of reshaping the lower back by using plastic domes, air-filled bladders, or foam rolls made sense to Dr. Anderson. However, there were many complications and drawbacks to using these methods and they were ultimately proven to be ineffective. Either the patient’s low back complaint never significantly improved, or there was no real increase in the curve of the lumbar spine. A tool designed to both support the natural curve of the low back and enhance the effectiveness of abdominal exercises became the objective. After much trial and error this goal was ultimately achieved with what is now known as the MECA Wedge.
The MECA Wedge is composed of a soft textured foam material specifically designed to have a high density and elasticity. This serves to redirect the damaging force of abdominal exercises from the lower back to the abdominal wall. The effort exerted by the exercises directly correlates to the counter pressure from the MECA Wedge. Thus, the abdominal wall is more effectively and efficiently conditioned and the natural curve of the lumbar spine is enhanced. Additionally, the MECA Wedge can also be used as a form of passive therapy to help negate the negative effects associated with sitting as we’ve previously discussed.
Obviously the solution to the low back pain epidemic is not to avoid the sitting or abdominal exercises. Instead we need to understand how to perform these activities correctly to prevent future problems from occurring. Consider the relationship between dental hygiene and dental health. Dental health has improved, not by avoiding food and dental hygiene, but by educating us how to properly care for our teeth. We now know that done improperly, many beneficial dental hygiene tasks can be harmful to our teeth. Brushing your teeth with a hard bristle toothbrush for example, may clean your teeth but will it also injure your gums. The same concept holds true for our backs.
Let’s take our dental health analogy one step further and compare it to our spine. Sitting for long periods of time on a daily basis without taking corrective action is similar to never brushing your teeth. Performing abdominal exercises on our back or a ball is similar to brushing your teeth with a hard bristle toothbrush since it can injure the back while strengthening the abdomen. It becomes very clear that to prevent back problems we need to take action against the effects of sitting, and we need to use proper exercise techniques.
When used diligently, the MECA Wedge can help “undo” the insult of sitting, assist the effect of abdominal exercises, and enhance the natural lumbar spine curve. When performed correctly and consistently dental hygiene has significantly reduced the likelihood of developing dental problems. The same concept can be applied to our backs. A new understanding of how to properly care for our spine can go a long way towards reducing the incidence of the back problems that are plaguing the industrialized world.