Knowing some basic anatomy of your spine is important to fully understand what may be the root cause of your pain. This is by no means a full picture of the inner-workings of the spine, however it is a good start! So, here it goes….
The spine is comprised of five sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (midback), lumbar (low back), sacrum and the coccyx (tailbone). Each vertebra is separated by a gelatinous disc, which provides shock absorption and gives an appropriate amount of space for the nerves to exit. Of course, the spinal cord runs through the middle of the vertebrae with nerves exiting from the right and left of most the vertebra. Each section of the spine has a natural curve and it’s important to be mindful to help maintain these curves. The neck and low back gently curve inward and the midback and tailbone curve outward. Although your pain could be coming from a wide variety of issues, here are some things to think about to protect all the tissues and structures of your spine.
I think this is a huge contributor to pain, degeneration and injury. When we are standing or seated, the weight of gravity is always pushing down through our spine, creating significant compression forces through the discs and bones. This compression starts the moment we stand up in the morning! Fighting the effects of gravity is tough, as it’s easier to slouch or slump. However, the long-term effects of bad posture will certainly catch up to you.
Good posture in seated and standing is essential to combating wear and tear on our spine. Common postural changes include an excessively inwardly curved neck, hunched shoulders, and a rounded mid and low back. If we are in this position too long or on a daily basis, our muscles and spine will stiffen into these postures. These can become permanent adaptations!
When sitting, try this:
- Rock your pelvis forward and backward. As your pelvis moves you should be able to feel your low back “flatten” and “arch.” Neutral is the middle range of the two motions. When you are in neutral, you are aligning your pelvis and lumbar spine to appropriately absorb the forces of gravity.
- Once in neutral, it is easier for the rest of your spine to come into a correct position.
- Make sure you are opening from your breastbone and gently pulling your shoulder blades down and in.
- Think “long and tall through the back of the neck”.
When standing try this:
- Keep your knees soft (not bent). If you lock your knees, the curve in your low back gets larger.
- Place your pelvis in neutral and follow all above postural recommendations for sitting.
- Engaging the lower abdominals lightly is a good way to support your spine.
Locked Knees Results In A Larger Low Back Curve – Not Good
3. Body Mechanics
The spine is made to bend and twist, don’t misunderstand. It is not however meant to be in poor alignment while lifting a thirty-five pound child from the floor or scooping fifteen pounds of snow in our shovel and then twisting to toss it!
- When bending and lifting it is so important you hinge from your hips and knees, keeping your spine straight. This keeps all the movement in your large, stable joints like your hips and knees and away from your smaller spinal joints.
- Imagine you have a stick along the length of your spine, keeping all points of contact on the stick as you move to bend.
- Think about your spine being long, from head to tailbone
- Aahhh! Your spine will thank you for protecting it.
Keeping Your Spine Long From Head to Tailbone
We hope this helps for those of you who are required to sit or stand for long periods of time. Being mindful of the anatomy is a good start and understanding the optimal alignment of your spine helps your muscles become more efficient. It isn’t necessary to work harder to hold these positions, just work smarter!
Jessica Dufault is a licensed physical therapist, a certified athletic trainer and a co-owner of Mindful Motion Physical Therapy, LLC in Madison, Wisconsin.
These are the thoughts and opinions of the author and they do not constitute medical advice. For advice on medical issues you should always consult your local medical practitioner.