Does Your Spine Have a Strategy?

Does Your Spine Have a Strategy?

Wait…what?  Isn’t it YOU that needs to have a spine strategy?  For sure!  But, your spine has its own mission, which is important to recognize.  Then, you can work together “for best results.” 

Hang in…this will all come together at the end.

Your Spine’s Strategies

Your spine’s list of strategies is short, but each one is super important.  This may seem obvious, especially to anyone who has had a back problem.  When something happens to your back, it cannot be ignored.  Back problems get in the way of most things that we do. 

Here’s what your spine does:

  1. Your spine’s main purpose is to protect your spinal cord.  As we all know, our spinal cord is key for our functioning on just about every level you can think of.  It is at the center of most of our movements, reactions, sensations, and on and on.

  2. Your spine does its best to stay healthy.  That is why it has three curves in it.  These curves are there to dissipate stresses and compressions on your spine as you decide to move around, or even sit around!

  3. Your spine is designed to move, AND it is designed NOT to move. This is how it keeps your spinal cord protected, and your back free from pain.

How these Strategies Play out In Real Life (IRL)

With some spectacular feats of engineering and architecture, your spine helps you keep things under control.  Meaning, there are some things you just can’t do because your spine won’t let you.  That’s because it has bony parts sticking out that stop certain movements. 

In addition, all those bony parts are surrounded and encased by ligaments and muscles. They also have their limits, but they can also cause the spine to move. And, like your other muscles and ligaments, they can be trained to get stronger for you.

To get more specific, let’s give a shout-out to certain areas:

Your cervical spine, consisting of 7 vertebrae at the top of your spine, is the most mobile.  We all know this because we can move our heads around so that our eyes can see in different directions (I will NOT make a bad joke here about eyes in the back of our heads).

Your 12 thoracic vertebrae (mid section) and 5 lumbar vertebrae (at the bottom) are pretty good at moving too, but not as much.  Together, they let you bend forward 90 degrees, back 30 degrees, and to the side 30 degrees.  Their big job is weight bearing, since they hold us up, including our big heads.

Since low backs are a common area for problems, they deserve special mention.

I am going to highlight two specific features of low backs that can get us into trouble if we aren’t paying attention. 

It may seem like our low backs are capable of a fair amount of rotation.  Think of a golf swing.  It looks like golfers are doing a fantastic amount of rotating, and they are.  BUT, if you really look at it, most of the rotation is coming from hip, shoulder, and arm movements.  In actual fact, lumbar vertebrae are only capable of rotating about 3 degrees MAX before bad things start to happen.  Golfers probably know this, but even so, you often hear of golfers with low back problems.

Notice that I said that the spine is designed to bend forward 90 degrees.  That’s pretty good!  We take advantage of that quite often in our lives.  The problem comes in when we (a) round our backs as we bend over, or (b) go past 90 degrees. 

Both of these things are easy to do!  When we round our backs, it can push the discs in between our vertebrae out.  If that becomes a habit, we can get a bulging or even a herniated disc. 

If we bend forward past 90 degrees, our muscles and ligaments have to kick in BIG TIME in order to support that movement.  In other words, past 90 you are just hanging by your ligaments and muscles.  Not a good thought, right?  Then what can happen is that you can get excessive movement in your spine, which can lead to injury. 

That Brings Us to You and Your Strategies

Given what has been covered above, let’s highlight a few ways you can keep you and your spine happy. 

  • Core is super important.  That’s why you hear about it all the time.  Your core needs to be strong in order to protect your spine, whether it is in motion or just holding you up.  To be clear, your core iincludes all that is attached to your pelvis, spine, ribs, and hips.  Strategy:  Be mindful of keeping all of your core strong.  That means not just the front (as in chasing a 6 pack), but also the back and sides. 
  • Your core needs to be strong AND stable.  This goes back to the spine strategies.  Remember that your spine is built to move and to NOT move.  It is there to support you.  That requires endurance.  That is why you see certain exercises like the plank, where you hold a position rather than doing repetitions.  This is a very, very, good idea.  Strategy:  Put planks in your routine!  There are several versions of these that can work for you.
  • Pay attention to the 90 degree rule, and don’t round your back when bending forward.  This can be difficult, but is really worth considering.  Strategy:  Get in the habit of HINGING from your hips when you bend forward.  This keeps your spine neutral, not rounded. Stop at 90.  No need to go in for heroics here. 
  • Watch out for too much lumbar rotation.  Train yourself to use your hips, shoulders, and arms to rotate your body.  Strategy:  Keep those areas strong and flexible so that your low back does not have to do the rotating. 

There are lots of ways to practice spine health in addition to the ones just mentioned.  Paying attention to your posture and keeping all your muscles strong and flexible in a balanced way can really help.  Sounds like a lot, I know, but keep these strategies in mind and do your best.

All the best

© 2022 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Natali_Mis | iStock

The End of Try Try Again by Kristen Carter MS

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