Our Central Supports: The Spinal Column & Spinal Cord
The spinal column — an elegant stacking of 33 vertebrae — provides the structural center of the human body: It’s what keeps your body balanced and upright. It should come as no surprise, then, that the spinal column is of central importance to the structural health of the body. When the vertebrae of the spine are properly aligned (i.e. when your posture is good) all the other bones of the body tend naturally to find their proper and most comfortable positions. A healthy spine contributes to your overall health and well being.
Along with being your structural center, the spinal column’s most vital function is to protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord is what allows communication between the brain and the rest of the body. When the vertebrae of the spinal column are properly aligned, the central nervous system can function properly.
The vertebrae of the spinal column also allow the 31 pairs of peripheral nerves to emerge from the spinal cord and travel freely to the body’s various muscles and organs. A healthy relationship between the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves is what lets us process information from our body and the external world (via the sensory nerves) and then act in response to this information (via the motor nerves). Spinal cord or peripheral nerve injuries disrupt this relationship between sensing and acting.
Spinal Injuries & Resulting Illness and Dis-Ease
A severe spinal cord injury can result in paralysis or even death. Less severe injuries to the spinal cord; or misalignment of the vertebrae of the spinal column; or a pinching of the peripheral nerves — can cause a wide variety of pain and dysfunction, in the spine itself as well as the muscles and organs that are innervated by the peripheral nerves.
Misalignments of the spinal vertebrae (aka “subluxations”) can also be the result of chronic physical tension or overworking of the muscles. Whatever the cause, a spine that is out of alignment frequently causes physical pain in the back, neck, hips or shoulders. But it can also be the root cause of a variety of ailments that you might not necessarily associate with spinal health. According to chiropractic experts:
“You may not even realize your spine is out of alignment, but you will more than likely notice some of the resulting side effects which can, and often do, occur: Headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, joint pain, digestive issues, and chronic fatigue are just some of the many ways in which your body may be telling you that you have a vertebra out of alignment. This is because the body is thrown off balance and must work harder to compensate for spinal misalignments, not to mention that the central nervous system is unable to perform to the best of its ability.”
The bottom line is that a healthy spine sets the stage for overall health and vitality. And an unhealthy spine is likely to undermine our health and vitality in all kinds of ways. So cultivating a healthy spine is well worth the effort!
What Does A Healthy Spine Look Like?
If you’re someone who works long hours at a desk, or performing repetitive movements or heavy lifting, your posture may become a bit distorted. And there are good reasons to notice that this has happened, and take steps to remedy the situation. As pointed out in Yoga Journal’s posture assessment guide:
“So, while you needn’t nag yourself about slouching, you may discover that the simple act of straightening up can change your life. If you train your body to maintain the normal spinal curves and keep your posture vertical and spacious when you’re standing or sitting upright, you’re likely to feel better all over. And that’s something to write home about.”
The experts at Harvard Medical School remind us that good posture and a healthy spine result in fewer injuries, better balance, improved athletic performance, and overall comfort in movements. But what exactly does it mean to have good posture? If you look at your body in a full-length mirror, good posture means:
- your chin is parallel to the floor
- your shoulders are even (roll your shoulders up, back, and down to help achieve this)
- your spine is neutral, with its natural curves (no flexing or arching to overemphasize the curve in your lower back)
- your arms hang at your sides with elbows straight and even
- your abdominal muscles are firm
- your hips are an even height
- your knees are even and pointing straight ahead, and
- your body weight is distributed evenly on both feet.
Tips For Restoring & Maintaining A Healthy Spine
Now that you know what a healthy spine — and good posture — looks like, the next question is how to go about restoring good posture, and then maintaining it? Here are some tips that will help you along the path toward a healthy and comfortable spine:
- Invest in an ergonomic chair, desk, and/or keyboard, which allow you to position your body in a way that is healthily aligned while you work.
- Invest in a high-quality customized pillow, which will keep your head and cervical spine happily aligned while you sleep.
- Check out the American Chiropractic Association’s tips for spinal health, which offer practical guidance on how best to stand, sit, reach, bend, sleep, type, and text — as you move through your daily life.
- Attend restorative/therapeutic yoga classes, several times weekly. Kaiut yoga is one excellent option, if it’s available nearby. A restorative Iyengar Yoga class is another good choice. On your own, you can follow the video instruction of three simple poses to traction the spine and the written instruction for six yoga poses for a healthier spine.
Being mindful of your movements at work and home, creating a healthy sleeping environment, and learning some simple restorative yoga poses, will support you well in cultivating a vibrantly healthy spine.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have. We look forward to assisting you in any way that we can.