A Mobile Spine for Freedom of Movement
We all want to move with ease and fluidity as we observe in young children and they do this naturally. Have you ever seen a toddler slouch? Healthy children have mobile hips which link to free moving spines. Of course, there is little ‘wear and tear’ in a young body but the important point I wish to make is that we can wear out or damage our bodies at very different rates depending upon how we move and our awareness.
Our spine is composed of 24 vertebrae, each separated by a cushioning disc. The vertebrae are categorized by region, there being 5 lumbar, 12 thoracic and 7 cervical which reflects the lower to upper spine. Our spine has natural curves which act as an impact absorber when we jump and then land. At the back of our spine, each vertebra articulates with the vertebra above via 2 facet joints and bony projections provide attachment anchor sites for the spinal muscles (and others) spanning multi directionally. The spinal cord runs down through a canal in the back of the spine from which nerves exit at each vertebra sending messages throughout the body.
Our spine is designed to move forward, backwards, to rotate and side bend. So far so good it is an impressive structure, why then do we encounter pain and problems?
Problematic Lifestyle Factors:
• The discs and facet joints of the spine are vulnerable to compressive forces which can result from poor posture and certain repetitive movements. Think of a golfer that always swings the club one way, muscles become stronger/ tighter on one side which creates pulling forces through the tissues into the spine and brings the body out of alignment. The ideal situation is that we use the body evenly. To stand evenly through both feet/ legs and to load the spine along its axis.
• Prolonged periods of desk sitting or driving take the spine out of normal alignment, the tendency being a rounded upper back, head forward and chin up position. Consider this when for hours of a day, 5 days per week. Gradually the spine assumes this shape and the soft tissues harden around it. Furthermore, the facet joints of certain vertebra can act as a hinge for sections of vertebra which are ‘locked’ resulting in faster wear and an increasing lack of mobility.
Movements to Avoid:
• Rounding the spine (flexion) while carrying a heavy load is compressive on the front wall of the intervertebral disc, most commonly L4, L5 and S1
• Worse still is flexion and rotation under load for same reason
• Excessive degrees of extension or rotation done forcefully
• Carrying a heavy load at arm’s length, keep the centre of gravity close to the body
Beneficial Activity for Spinal Health:
• Develop more awareness – knowledge brings the choice to create change
• Careful Yoga will help to address symmetry across the body from side to side, improve muscle tone/ flexibility, maintain movement in joints and increase awareness of posture and what constitutes efficient, movement
• Physical therapies
• Decompression- thinking hanging from a pull of bar
• Flexion, extension, rotation and side bending performed carefully. IE mirroring the natural motions the spine has evolved to do.
• Tai chi, chi-gong
You must be interested and motivated to create change; anyone can do it!
Physical therapy is great and can be a catalyst for faster progress which will be optimized through your own work, be it yoga or any physical discipline which keeps you moving. Developing more understanding of the body is key, we can learn through our own exploration what constitutes efficient and stress-free movement. We can identify which areas are tight, weak, or locked and carefully work upon them. You may be older, carrying an injury or with significant wear, yet even in these instances, with a holistic approach some improvement can be made.
I hope you enjoyed this article. For further advice, contact me.
Go well Will