The Importance of Spinal Position in Pretty Much Everything
Contributing to this article is Dr. Jordan Savara, practicing chiropractor and all around good guy from Crystal Springs Chiropractic in San Mateo, CA. You can find him adjusting patients using chiropractic work as well as the Graston Technique.
Massage Therapist Alexis Held also joins in with a great foam roller exercise for relaxation! You can find this warm, healing lady at Move Happy Therapeutic Bodywork and Massage in San Francisco utilizing Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and more.
Class after class, session after session, your coach is barking (or quietly mentioning) that your back should be straight when you’re moving. It feels straight… why do they keep mentioning it?
The Spine and the Core
The spine is the basis of your structure. It holds your spinal cord, that nerve thing that relays information from your brain to your body and vice versa, and all your bones connect to it. Your core muscles connect to it to create all movement, whether you’re picking up your kid from the floor or getting into your car. The core and spine are a team — you can’t move without them working together.
When your back is messed up, be it a disc issue or soreness, you don’t want to do a single thing because it hurts! It hurts when you move, it hurts when you don’t move. It hurts up by your neck! It hurts by your tailbone! EVERYWHERE. Everything is connected! When your posture is off, your movements will lead to injury. Let’s not hurt it anymore.
Chiropractor Dr. Jordan Savara tells me, “From proper nervous system functioning to maintaining skeletal health, ideal posture is the key to looking and feeling our best.” He finds that many of the issues he sees in his patients can be alleviated by adjusting their posture throughout their daily tasks, including bending over to pick up an object or sitting down on a chair.
What can help gain better spinal position? Working the core! Our muscles in our trunk, both on our fronts and backs, help keep us standing. “There are many layers of muscles that make up the lower back and pelvis. All of which have a job to do,” Dr. Jordan states. “If some muscle groups are over worked, our bodies will compensate to deal with the pressure.” That’s where the muscle imbalances and poor posture come into play. Exercising with a revised, improved posture will alleviate your pain and prevent it in the future.
Pump Up Your Posture: Strengthen your Core
Never done a plank before? First thing’s first: go stand against a wall and press your butt, shoulders, and head against it. Feel how straight your back is? Great. That’s your new “straight” in your brain — it should be in position when you’re on your toes and your hands.
This position can also be done on your knees and/or forearms. If you suffer from shoulder pain, get your plank figured out in the pushup/hands position and work towards the forearm plank. The knee position is if the toes are too much. That’s okay! Just be sure to keep that straight spinal position from the wall while on your knees. Use a mirror or coach to double-check that you are in your improved straight posture.
A special note for those with vertigo or high blood pressure: the plank may be dangerous for you. Try planking using a high surface like a sturdy bench, table, or railing to do this move in an incline position, with your head and shoulders higher off the ground than your hips. Consult a doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist for alternatives.
This one is great for swimmers and people with low strength in their lower backs.
While laying flat on the floor, engage your legs and arms straight out and gently raise your chest off the ground. Your height from the ground will vary — you do you.
After mastering the hold, rotate your arms alongside your body like a soldier, then bring them back to the dive position.
If this is rough on your arms, just hold the position with your arms off the ground and work towards the arm movement. Keep the glutes flexed and legs raised.
Single Leg Stand
Stand on one foot.
More than that, you’ll want to do this one in front of a mirror. The key here is to keep your hips level with the ground. When one side or the other goes too high, your hips, specifically the gluteus medius, will not be firing optimally. Pictured here is the correct position on the left: level with the ground. The middle and right positions are incorrect.
This move is particularly helpful if you have uneven hips or scoliosis. One-sided exercises help muscles strengthen independently of each other.
Setting Yourself Up For Success
Many suffer from slumped shoulders, which leads to a kyphotic, bent over look we associate with frazzled scientists slaving over their work and elementary school teachers who spend most of their time with tiny beings. Massage Therapist Alexis Held points out, “Most of our daily actions are forward facing: driving, writing, eating, computer usage, cutting hair (if that’s what you do ;)) you get my point. Your pectoral muscles are engaged and can become shortened.” That hunched over position is also where our body just plain associates with stress. When you get “frozen” in it… not good.
Bonus Exercise: laying flat on a foam roller
Yes, it is possible to exercise while just laying there! Sort of.
Open up the shoulders by laying your spine along a 3 foot roller, and every time you exhale, focus on letting your shoulders drop towards the floor. Position your feet as wide as necessary for balance.
Sometimes having your arms splayed out helps ease your body into releasing the shoulders. Alexis finds this simple move helps her people relieve tension in between their sessions and recommends it for maintaining good posture. She directs, “Drop your shoulders, arms on the ground, take deep breaths, release and feel your chest open!”
You may not get a lot of motion the first few times. If so, it may be time to consult your doctor on how to release the tension in your shoulders and, ultimately, your back.
What does this have to do with the core? You may try to get your shoulders releasing by arching your lower back! Maintain your straight posture, the one from standing at the wall (head, shoulders, and butt touching the roller!) and engage your abs to maintain that posture while the shoulders are releasing.
These four simple exercises will help you gain better posture, relieve stress, and instill confidence in your daily movement.
Learn more from our sources:
“Adult DegenerativeScoliosis: A Patient’s Guide to Adult Degenerative Scoliosis” on eOrthopod
“Anatomy of the Spine” on Mayfield Brain and Spine
“Relieving Stress: Mind Over Muscle” on the New York Times