Welcome to the Human Spine

The spine is made up of 32 bones, and 23 discs stacked and grouped into 4 segments. In the neck are 7  vertebrae referred to as C1-C7. Next are the 12 thoracic vertebrae, T1-T12. It is on the thoracic vertebrae where the ribs attach in the back of the body. Continuing down the spine,there are 5 lumbar, L1-L5, then we have the sacrum which is actually 5 vertebrae fused together to form a triangular shaped structure and finally the Coccyx, 3 bones, referred to as the tailbone. The spinal discs, located between the vertebrae, are tough and membranous on the outside and more gel-like on the inside. They act as shock absorbers, if you will, between the vertebrae.

When it comes to the shape of the spine, we have multiple curves that are indicators of spinal health. These curves are normal and we want them to exist in the spine to a reasonable degree. The cervical and lumbar spine areas have curves that are called lordotic, or inward curves. The thoracic and sacral area have curves that are called kyphotic, or outward curves. It is possible in any body to have a lack of curvature, or a straightening of the spine or excess curve called hyper-lordotic or hyper-kyphotic.

The spine serves as protection for the spinal cord and provides structural support and place of attachment for muscles and ligaments and serves as a connector of the upper and lower body. It can also move in 6 directions – Flexion (forward bending), Extension (back bending), Right Lateral (side bending), Left Lateral (side bending), Right Rotating (twisting) and Left Rotating (twisting). I find the ability to move the spine well in these 6 directions is compromised in almost everyone.

The state of your spine is a direct reflection of how you have and haven’t moved over the course of your lifetime.

When we encounter a body and offer a postural suggestion to try and improve the way the body appears, we need to be careful. For example: If you observe that there is an excessive lordotic (inward curve, swayback, thrust) position in the mid-back, near the juncture of the thoracic and lumbar spine, it is easy to suggest fixing it by tucking the pelvis. That may give the outward appearance of resolving the lordosis, but it has possibly removed the healthy, lordotic curve of the lumbar spine, leaving you with a straightened lumbar spine. Which translates to creating more problems than you think you have solved. A lumbar spine without a healthy curve (in either direction) is implicated in disc degeneration, problems with the knee joint and pelvic floor issues to name a few issues.

We do so love a quick fix in our world. Unfortunately, unraveling the issues of our spines and their excessive or lacking curvature isn’t as simple and just moving one part in another way. Because everything in our body is connected.

Most of the bodies I see are fairly jacked up (which is definitely a very highly technical yoga term) from a lifetime of moving and not moving in certain ways and breathing in limited ways (did you know an optimal breath helps the spine experience extension?). When we turn to an alignment based model that relies on using bony markers, thus putting a body on a grid, we can begin to better understand the relationship of the parts to each other and begin to work on solutions that restore the spine to a more optimal state.

What’s the state of your spine and what kind of postural cues have you been given, or do you give, to try and improve the state of the spine?