As health and fitness professionals, the spine is a great area to work with, because the structure itself and its associated soft tissues have such great potential to increase performance, and dissipate forces travelling through the whole body as we move.
The old proverb goes- “You are as old as your Spine”, and it’s certainly an area that can change and lose function dramatically if we don’t move it.
Your Spine consists of 7 Cervical vertebrae, 12 Thoracic, and 5 Lumbar vertebrae.
The sacrum and coccyx are formed from bones that fuse together during early life.
The neck is very mobile, which allows it to effectively follow the eyes as we move.
The the first of the Cervical segments is named after a figure in Greek mythology- Atlas’s job was to carry the weight of the earth and heavens on his shoulders. The neck has to carry the weight of the head, which at around 10 or 11 pounds can feel a lot heavier if we develop certain conditions, such as a forward head posture.
The Thoracic spine is a really important area because it has great versatility in movement and therefore has the capability to protect other parts of the spine by absorbing a wide range of motions originating from the rest of the body.
Also, because it’s attached to the diaphragm and rib cage, it can be effected by changes in breathing habits as well as a general lack of movement. This is an area that can give great benefits from improvements in function, and very often of interest during training and treatment.
The lumbar spine is comprised of the 5 largest segments, the facet joints in this area are arranged in a way that doesn’t allow much rotation, so they are commonly effected by a lack of motion or stability in the hips and thoracic spine, when they are forced to provide excessive motion in all three planes of motion.
From a fitness professional’s point of view, the spine gives you lots of great possibilities for creating an interesting variety of exercises.
The fact that it can bend in all directions, and also do various combinations of motion also is allows for some great strategies when it comes to finding successful movements during times of discomfort in the body.
Moving through as many positions as we can will also provide a pump action to move fluids into the intervertebral discs, therefore these important structures need varied movements for nutrition and good health. This also means that avoiding movement can inhibit and slow down the process of repair when there’s damage to the area.
Imagine for a moment doing a day to day task, such as reaching for an object, swinging a golf club, or picking up a child. Since we’re task driven we will find a way to move or reach a part of our body from a to b, and the spine will be involved to a greater or lesser extent.
When you consider the full range of motions the spine can do, it’s easy to envisage how any task can be made a lot harder or easier by the contribution of the various parts of the spine.
In training, most of us give at least a little attention to our body image, and people sometimes forget that we have a shape in movement too!
Last week we touched on the appeal of dancing and certain arts containing flow, and as a centrepiece of many movement patterns the spine is an absolutely key component of the fluidity of movement.
Just like the rest of the body, staying active and learning to increase your movement scope at a level appropriate to you is a great way to build on your current level of spine health.
In our next post in the Intelligent Movement Series we will look at the role of our spine motion in Core Training.