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Human Biomechanics for Beginners: the Spine

This article is part of a series that will describe how various parts of your body move.

 Knowing these basics will help you become aware of your movements and move better. The topic today is your spine, which gives your body structure and protects your spinal cord and your nervous system. The spine is a very complicated structure. We will touch on a few important elements.

Your spine is comprised of  24 small bones called vertebrae. These bones stack on top of each other, with the help of ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Intervertebral discs separate the individual bones providing additional weight-bearing support. Vertebrae are interconnected by facet joints that allow mobility in the spine.

The spine has three main segments:

  • 7 cervical vertebra starting at the base of the skull
  • 12 thoracic vertebra, below the cervical spine, and
  • 5 lumbar vertebra, below the thoracic spine.

Below the lumbar spine is the sacrum, a group of fused vertebrae that connect the spine to the pelvis.

Applying the joint-by-joint approach to movement (see previous article), each segment needs either mobility or stability. The lumbar spine needs stability. The thoracic spine needs mobility. The lower and middle cervical vertebra (C3-C7) need stability. The upper cervical vertebra (C1-C2) need mobility. Many spinal issues come from too much mobility in the lumbar and cervical spine. Or too little in the thoracic spine.

The spine has an “S”-like curve that helps distribute the weight of your body: (1) the cervical spine curves inward, (2) the thoracic spine curves outward, and (3) the lumbar spine curves inward.

It is important to honor your S-curves when you stack your vertebra to find Good Posture. However, too much curve is a problem. Rounded shoulders create an extreme curve in your thoracic spine. Using our cell phone creates forward head posture, an extreme curve in your cervical spine. Prolonged sitting creates a tuck, an extreme curve at the bottom of your lumbar spine. 

These poor postural habits can cause the vertebrae and discs in your spine to collapse. Your spine loses muscle tone, strength, and bone density. All of this affects your mobility, stability, and breathing.

There are many movements that can help improve and maintain spinal health. One of my favorites is Flat Back Hip Hinge at the Wall described below.

STANDING FLAT BACK HIP HINGE AT THE WALL

  1. Stand in Good Posture facing a wall, counter, or shelf. Stand an arm’s length from the wall plus a little more.
  2. Stack your ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints. Align your ears above your shoulder joints.
  3. Have your feet hip distance apart, parallel, with your toes pointing forward.
  4. Breathe in. Breathe out. Take a few minutes to become aware of your breath.
  5. Fold the spine forward at the hips without rounding the spine. Imagine your spine is a broomstick leaning forward.
  6. Move the head of your thigh bone forward in the hip socket without moving other body parts (eg. ribcage, pelvis, lumbar spine).
  7. If you can hinge forward to a 90-degree angle at your hips, do that.
  8. Then extend your arms and place your palms on the wall.
  9. If you cannot reach a 90-degree angle, stop when you can no longer keep a flat back.
  10. Then extend your arms and place your palms on the wall.
  11. You may have to adjust your distance from the wall. If you do, come back to your starting position, adjust your distance. Then start over again with your hip hinge.
  12. Once you find your optimal flat back hip hinge at the wall, pause and breathe 3, 6, 9 breaths.
  13. Come out of the pose by walking toward the wall and climbing your hands up the wall.
  14. Repeat and enjoy the benefits of knowing your distance without experimenting.

Printable version at www.intelligentmovementforever.com

Summing Up:

The spine is made up of 24 individual vertebrae that work together to keep us sitting, standing and moving. It protects our spinal cord and nervous system. Intelligent movement can help maintain spinal health. Standing Flat Back Hip Hinge at the Wall is a good start. Try it and let me know if you have questions.

[Medical Disclaimer: This article is for education and information only. It is not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion.] 

Photo credit: ID 30722603 © Sebastian Kaulitzki | Dreamstime.com

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