You know when you’re about to do something really brave and someone says to you, ‘well, you’ve got the backbone for it’, you know that what they’re saying in a roundabout way is that you’ve got the strength to do it.
And there’s good reason why the word backbone is used in this sense. It’s because that column of small, linked bones that runs down the middle of our backs is crucial for our sturdiness, power, and agility.
The pivotal link to everything!
Did you know that your spine is made up of 24 moveable bones? These are connected to a total of 120 muscles, 220 ligaments, and more than 13 million neurons. Pretty impressive, eh? So, when we take care of our spine, all these other bits of circuitry stay in peak health too allowing us to twist and turn with ease.
Aren’t columns usually straight?
You’ve probably heard the term, ‘spinal column’. But our spines are anything but straight. Spines have 3 curves – actually 4 if you include the sacrum. It makes no sense for it be to like a column. Imagine trying to tie up your shoelace if that was the case – impossible!
Next time you walk past a full-length mirror, or brave enough to look into a scrupulously clean shop window to see your reflection, turn to the side to reveal your curves.
- Starting at the top you’ll see the first curve which is your neck. It curves inwards and is known as the cervical curve.
- Moving down you’ll see a curve at your upper back. This curves outwards and is known as the thoracic curve.
- Next there’s the curve at your lower back which curves inwards. This is known as the lumbar curve.
- And finally, there’s the sacrum. This is made up of fused bones that form a connection with the pelvis and attaches with the tailbone (coccyx).
Different designs for different functions
Where the function of the spine changes, the design does too, and these are the spots where the spine can get stuck resulting in us experiencing irritation or pain.
This discomfort may be fleeting meaning that we don’t really notice it, but there may be times when the discomfort can quite literally stop us in our tracks!
Now, thinking back to the curves mentioned above and the changes in design, let’s take a closer look at the functions:
- The role of the cervical spine (the neck) is to support the head and allow movement. The bones are small and offer a lot of mobility.
- The bones of the thoracic spine (the upper back) are larger at the top and smaller at the bottom. Their role is to support the rib cage.
- The largest bones of the spine are found in the lumbar spine (the lower back). They carry the load of the upper body and provide the link with the lower body.
The front and the back of the spine is also designed differently.
- The front comprises of denser, thicker bodies of bone, designed for load bearing and stability.
- The back of the spine has much more space and provides attachment points for many of the back muscles and connecting bones. It handles the forces of tension that are created when we move.
By now you’re in no doubt that the spine is made from lots of different parts. So, it makes sense for us to do what we can to keep it as healthy as possible. Think of exercising your spine the same as spraying WD40 on the moving parts of a machine.
What to do when you’re feeling stiff
Most of us can relate to feeling stiff every now and then. We automatically do a little squirm and shimmy to try and loosen things up. But when that doesn’t work, we end up working other parts of the body even harder as a work around. This solution is never sustainable, and even more aches and pains will start to appear.
Here’s what you can do every day to free your spine:
- Ideally do this standing, but if you do this sitting down make sure that your feet are flat on the floor and that you’re lifting yourself tall through your spine.
- Place your hands on your chest and keep your head and hips still. Rotate your rib cage side to side.
- Arms down by your side, slide one arm down the side of your leg. Pause for a split second when you get to the top and repeat on the other side.
- Rock, tuck and tilt your pelvis back and forward keeping your shoulders in the same place.
Our information superhighway
And finally, let’s not forget about our internal superhighway – aka the spinal cord. Made up of soft tissue it extends from the base of our brains and contains nerve cells. Its job is to support our every movement and the structure of our bodies. Without it we simply can’t function.
Every vertebral bone of our spine has its own specific role as you’ve discovered, all with the purpose of helping us perform daily activities as efficiently and effectively as possible. And when you think that it’s our vertebrae that surrounds the spinal cord to protect it and keep it safe, it really is worth investing in the time to keep it in peak condition.
If you feel that you could benefit from discovering more ways to strengthen your core, feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.