Health of the Spine
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
The spine is the central structure of our body, and its health is essential for maintaining mobility in the body. Different areas of the spine have vertebrae of different sizes and somewhat different shapes, depending on the main function of that particular part of the spine.
Parts of the spine are cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back) and sacral (lowest part of the spine that connects to the pelvis). While our lumbar spine can move fairly easily into flexion (forward bending) and extension (backward bending), the shape of its facet joints limits rotation (twisting). Our thoracic spine, on the other hand, has more ability to rotate.
Mobility of the thoracic spine is important for the health of both the lower back and the neck. When our spine is in its optimal shape, we bend and rotate seamlessly, with each part of the spine doing its role. Unfortunately, most of our daily activities involve sitting, which consistently keeps our spine in flexion and our head forward. This excessive flexion means the muscles of the back body are working overtime to try to pull the spine back into neutral alignment and to support the head. They get overstretched and overworked, which causes stiffness and pain. As a result, the upper back gradually loses its mobility. It doesn’t rotate as efficiently any more, and this puts strain on the lower back as well as the neck, which also relies on the thoracic spine to achieve full range of motion. As we age, space between the vertebrae reduces, also contributing to reduced mobility of the spine.
Making sure our seated posture allows the spine to stay in its natural alignment will go a long way towards staying pain-free. Maintaining mobility of the thoracic spine should be a regular part of any exercise routine or movement practice. Gentle extension and safe rotation (twists), as part of a yoga therapy or another mindful movement practice, will help reduce stiffness and pain, and allow all parts of the spine do their job optimally.