What is The Spine?
The spine is our body’s central support structure. It keeps us upright and connects the different parts of our skeleton to each other, such as the head, chest, pelvis, shoulders, arms and legs. Although the spine is made up of a chain of bones, it is flexible due to elastic ligaments and spinal disks.
Your spine has many functions: It carries the weight of your head, torso and arms, and allows your body to move in any direction. Some sections of the spine are more flexible than others. The neck is the most flexible part. The spine also surrounds and protects the spinal cord. This important part of the nervous system runs through the middle of the spinal canal.
Viewed from the side, there are normally four slight natural curves in an adult spine: The cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) sections of the spine curve inward, and the thoracic (upper back) and sacral (lower spine) sections curve outward. These curves make the spine stable: They help you keep your balance when you are in an upright position, act as shock absorbers when you walk, and protect the individual bones in the spine (the vertebrae) from fractures.
Adults normally have 26 vertebrae, from top to bottom:
7 cervical vertebrae
12 thoracic vertebrae
5 lumbar vertebrae
1 sacrum (made up of 5 fused sacral vertebrae)
1 tailbone (made up of 4 fused coccygeal vertebrae)
The lower down the vertebrae are in the spine, the more weight they have to carry. That is why the lower vertebrae are larger and more stable than the top vertebrae.
Read more about the spinal disks and nerves at the U.S. National Library of Medicine - The World's Largest Medical Library
What Happens When The Spine is "Compromised?"
Spinal problems are usually caused by many different habits or lifestyle that contribute to the main issue; which means a holistic view of the body will be most beneficial (ie. yoga). Factors may include:
Poor mobility and weakness in surrounding muscles
Bad biomechanics and poor posture
Sedentary lifestyle (lots of sitting and immobility)
The pelvis is the foundation for the spine. Decreased mobility in the hips, hamstrings, ankles, and thoracic spine can lead to overcompensation at the lumbar spine and result in excessive pelvic tilt. Many people assume that a strong core is all they need. But you must also realize that the core’s role is stability rather than movement — in other words, preventing motion rather than initiating it. Many other muscles are there to facilitate movement and they must also be strong. Too much flexion or extension at the lumbar spine, usually caused by weak core muscles, can lead to injury.
Back pain only gets worse with poor biomechanics. Most spine injuries that occur are muscle strains or ligament sprains, usually due to improper loading and technique. The safest position for the lumbar spine is a neutral position — a natural but not exaggerated S-curve (double check the spine image at the top of this article for reference). You can find a neutral spine by flexing your lumbar spine, then extending it and trying to find the midpoint between the two, or by standing tall and taking a deep breath. Use a mirror to check. In yoga, this can also be finding your Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Poor posture means higher levels of shear stress on the spine. When posture is appropriate (proud chest, natural lumbar curve, tight core, retracted shoulder blades, etc.) – then we’re able to handle higher amounts of compressive force.
Folks with chronic back pain often neglect the posterior chain (i.e. the muscles that run along the rear of the body from neck to ankles). Single leg exercises help develop the lower body and immediately challenge the lower back and hips, building stability and function. We tend to be weak and imbalanced on extension movements because we do them less.
Sitting is the new smoking. We need movement. When we sit or lie around all day, intervertebral discs absorb fluid and become tighter, allowing less range of motion and promoting injury. Introduce yourself to regular movement like yoga! Yoga is a great way to help to preserve spinal health.
How Can Yoga Therapy & Ayurveda Help with Spinal Health?
Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda is a holistic form of alternative medicine that adapts the entire science from thousands of years ago to affect health and healing to the individual. Your combination of lifestyle habits and medical history will be evaluated by a Yoga Therapist and your program will be most effective it if it adapted and customized to your needs.
Curious if Yoga Therapy & Ayurveda can help you? Send me a message now!