So, first off, what is a normal spine?
The spine is made up of several bones called vertebrae which are stacked upon each other, with a disc in between.
A good indicator of if you have good postural alignment is if you drop a plumb line from your ear, it should pass through the middle of the shoulder joint, the hip joint and finally the ankle bone.
If the body deviates from this line, the upper back can get kyphotic – meaning more of a forward curvature in the spine, or ‘hunch’. This forces the head forward and increases the curve in the neck, thus bringing the back of the head closer to the upper back. This increased inward curve we call an increased lordosis.
When you have a more hunched back, not only do the muscles have to work really hard to try and lift the head in order to straighten the spine, there’s also the issue of shoulder alignment. The shoulders tend to be more rounded and the shoulder blades often rotate outwards and end up raised.
With the increase of lordosis in the neck and the lumbar spine, pains can be very acute and sharp. This is because the facet joints that create spinal movement are pushed closer together. This makes them easy to strain and encourages degeneration in the joints. So when people are younger they may have many more acute, shorter lived, but very painful attacks and as they age the wear can make the pain more chronic – therefore longer lasting, more dull, deep, gnawing and aching.
So, if you suffer from this increased anterior posterior curve – how can you help yourself?
If you are not doing any exercise then you need to do this to reduce your spinal pain. Pilates is a good start as this exercise really focuses on postural alignment, strength and flexibility.
However if you are exercising already here are things that will benefit you:
1. Always think about where your body is in a space before you start an exercise. Try and straighten your posture before starting. If your body is hunched, then lift your chest or breastbone. This will help to realign the neck position.
2. Try and exercise in front of a mirror so you can see your posture. I hear you moan! But it’s really important that you get the most optimal position to prevent injury.
3. Listen to your instructor – they will give you cues…
4. Make sure you draw your shoulder blades down your spine. If they are up around your ears and you are doing any form of weight lifting, then you will overwork the trapezius muscles and you will end up with neck pain. You also won’t be working the posterior back muscles which should be strengthened to try and promote straightening of the spine.
5. With an increase in lordosis, and you are attempting any kind of abdominal exercise, you need to consciously draw your spine closer to the ground. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t flat but it’s important it isn’t arching too high or moving around as you do the exercise (this means your abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough for the exercise you’re performing). This will lead to your low back being injured.
6. Planks. If you have an increased curve in your spine you may find that you feel pain when you do a plank. This means either again your abdominals aren’t strong enough so allow your low back to sag. The answer is to come out of a full plank onto your knees or just lift your bottom just a little and also try and tuck your bottom under. However, don’t have your bottom too far in the air as this will render the exercise ineffective.
7. Squats. If you do have a tendency to hunch, then you have to be careful and retain a good squatting technique. You train yourself into using your back to get to the ground rather than your legs – remember, your weight should go into your heels.
8. Type of exercise. Think about whether a form of exercise will suit your posture! For example, if you have a hunched back then cycling won’t be very good for your spine as this position may cause you to hunch or become kyphotic. Equally, if you have a sway back, running will end up affecting your lower back due to the weight of the spine and shock from the weight being driven into the joints.
To book an assessment at your local Not Just Backs clinic, contact us on 01722 512 043, or book an appointment online now.