Protect Your Low Back with the Drawing In Maneuver

Steps

Woman laying on wooden floor in supine position, head resting on book
Perform the drawing in maneuver in a supine position. Getty Images/Tony Hutchings

Drawing in is one of a number of core stabilization techniques taught to spine patients during the initial phases of physical therapy. Generally speaking, your therapist will ask you to gain some proficiency with core stabilization techniques before advancing to "official" core strengthening exercises.

The purpose of the drawing in maneuver, as well as abdominal bracing and similar techniques, is to activate your deepest spinal stabilizer muscles.

Based on their position, which is very close to your spinal column and pelvis, spinal stabilizer muscles can have a lot of influence over the well-being of your back.

Another reason to learn core stabilization techniques before taking on actual exercises is that they begin to train your stabilizers to function while you're active. To this end, you might think of the drawing-in maneuver as a warm-up for your core muscles, preparing them to make trunk, pelvic and spinal movements in all directions.

In their book, Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, physical therapists Carolyn Kinser and Lynn Allen Colby report that of all pre-exercise core stabilization techniques currently in clinical use, the drawing in maneuver is perhaps the best for getting transverse abdominal and multifidus muscles to contract together. Because the transverse and the multifidus are primary contributors to your spinal stability, this "co-contraction," as it is commonly called, is key for your back.

Related:  Transverse Abdominal Muscle

Here's How to Do the Drawing In Maneuver

Lie down in either supine or prone to perform the drawing in maneuver. (Supine simply means lying on your back, while prone refers to lying on your stomach.) You can also try it in the All-4s position (on your hands and knees with your trunk and head parallel to the floor.)

I recommend learning the technique in the hook lying position, which is a supine position where your knees are bent and your feet are flat on the floor. After you've gained proficiency, graduate yourself to the prone position. Use the All 4s position if the other positions are uncomfortable, or for variety.

Related: The Hook Lying Position

Establish Neutral Spine

To start, establish your neutral spine. The fastest, and one of the best, ways to do this is by exploring the "extremes" of your pelvic position. The reason this works is that your spine wedges in between your two pelvic bones in back. So when the pelvis moves, the spine follows. By tilting the pelvis forward (anterior) and back (posterior) you move your spine, too.  By exploring these positions, you'll also be affecting your natural low back curve with these movements (which is what we want.)

Step 1 Tilt Your Pelvis Backward, then Forward

Tilt your pelvis back into a posterior pelvic tilt. Go as far back as you can go without pain or discomfort.

Let go of the position and come back. Next, tilt your pelvis forward into an anterior pelvic tilt, again, going only as far as you can without pain or discomfort. Repeat this a few times until you get the hang of it.

Step 2 Come to Center

Now that you've experienced the extremes, bring your pelvis in between these two directions. Congratulations! You've begun to establish pelvic neutral. This is a good starting place for learning the drawing in maneuver.

Draw in your Abdominal Muscles

From there, take a nice deep inhale. Exhale, and as you do, draw in your abdominal muscles towards your spine. Let the exhale help you "hollow" your lower abdominal area.

Key here is to not allow other movements or pressures to help you. It's tempting, I know, and you may even tense or move without being aware of it. But to do this technique correctly, you have to scan your body for extraneous muscle contraction, and let go of it.

Common areas of unnecessary work, pressure or muscle tension to watch for include the lower ribs, abdominal (bulging) and/or pressure through the feet.

Sources

Kinser, C., Colby, L.A., Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. 4th Edition. F.A. Davis Company. Philadelphia, PA. 2002.

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