The spine is complex, but it is one of the most important components in the body. I think it is important for everyone to have some understanding of its anatomy so that they can make appropriate decisions about treatment if suffering from back pain, or want to maintain a healthy spine.
The spine is made up of 33 individual bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other in 5 areas:
Curves – when viewed from the side, the spine has curves – these are the arches of your spine. In the same way as arches in architecture allow stress to be distributed, so too do the arches of your spine. In fact all of our bones are curved for the same reason. The spine has 4 curves, forming a double S with the curves of the neck and lumbar moving in opposite directions.
A healthy spine, possessing all its normal curves, acts like a spring. Every time you increase the pressure on your body, the spine changes shape just like a spring. The muscles, ligaments (bands of flexible, fibrous connective tissue attaching bones to each other) and fascia act like guy wires on an antenna, supporting the curved column to reduce stress on the discs and vertebrae.
Each vertebra has an anterior (front) part and a posterior (back) part. The front part is called the vertebral body and provides the surfaces against which the discs rest. Two pedicles (struts) of bone project posteriorly from the body and support an arch called the vertebral lamina. This arch over the body of each vertebra forms the canal through which the spinal cord passes. Behind each of the discs and between every pair of vertebrae is a foramen or hole. One spinal nerve root exits from each of these holes. The posterior parts of the vertebral bones are connected by small joints called facet joints. Behind the facet joints, along the midline are spinous processes, these are the bumps which can easily be felt along the back of the neck, thoracic spine and lower back. vertebrae. C1 and C2 don’t conform to this arrangement and will be the subject of another blog.
Each vertebral bone is separated from its neighbour by a disc. Together the discs allow movement, absorb impact and cushion shocks. The discs consist of two parts; the inner area, called the nucleus, consists of a gelatinous material. The outer ring, or annulus is made up of layers of fibre and is the strongest portion of the disc – it keeps the annulus from leaking out, supports the weight of the spine and prevents excessive motion.
What is the Neutral Spine?
If the spine needs its curves, how much curvature is too much or too little? I believe everybody has their own neutral, the position in which their spine is most relaxed and free of the tension. However, poor posture can feel pretty relaxed, so you need to pay attention to sensing the tension in your joints and fascia, as well as your muscles.
What is Good Posture?
I prefer to speak about “functional” posture as opposed to “good” or “ideal” posture. Posture is not a static state. Your body is designed to move, therefore posture needs to be dynamic, and suited to you, the individual. Your posture should vary depending on your unique biology, how you’ve used your body, the time of day and what you are doing. If this sounds like I’m evading the question; it is because there is no “one good posture fits all” concept. Good posture for you may be bad for somebody else. Movement is the salve for your body, so sometimes it is OK to slouch for a bit, allowing some flexion in your spine, if you’ve been sitting upright for some time.
In the studio, I encourage all of you to develop your body awareness, so that you can learn to feel and recognise when you have achieved functional posture. This involves being aware of:
If this sounds like a lot to work on, it is an acknowledgement that changing your posture is difficult, requires a lot of training and time.
What does Stable Mean?
Stability, when we are talking about joints, refers to their ability to resist changes arising from the application of force and even to accommodate excessive forces generated by movement or your musculature. Under compression, joints stiffen and muscles stabilise a joint through co-contraction, usually activating before stress is applied to the joint. Stability, like posture is not static, we require dynamic stability because we are always moving. This requires good neuromuscular control, which is why we work on it constantly.
What Should You do to Maintain a Heathy Spine?
Overall wellness is key to maintaining spine health or living with a spine condition. Key factors include: