Anatomy of the Spine

She’s the backbone of the family. That sent shivers up my spine. He’s a spineless wimp and should grow a spine. It’s spine tingling! The job is really backbreaking. I bent over backwards for them.  

Your spine is clearly very important. Besides housing your spinal cord, balancing your ribs and skull, and doing it all while being incredibly flexible and resilient, it’s also metaphorically the center of strength, sensation, courage, and effort in our daily lives.  

But unless something’s going wrong with it, how often are you really thinking about your back and spine?  

This week is Spine Week and in each class we’re focusing on the spine. Specifically the buoyancy and resilience of your intervertebral discs.  

Intervertebral discs are rubber-like, fluid-filled cartilage between each of your bony spinal vertebra. These discs are instrumental in the mobility of your spine and also the brilliant transfer of force through your entire body.

Without them, each step you take would be like a miniature earthquake*, sending tremors from the impact of your foot on the earth up to a chatter in your teeth.  

Your intervertebral discs dynamically change shape as you flex forward and extend back, twist and side bend. When they’re compressed, they flatten a bit and narrow, like a rubber cylinder squeezed into a pancake. When compression is released, they buoyantly return to their taller, cylindrical shape.  

The bones of your vertebrae slide along these discs, squeeze them in many directions, and float atop them. Without healthy, rubbery discs, the vertebra bones would grind against each other. This can exacerbate arthritis and form bone spurs.  

Interestingly, your intervertebral discs don’t have a direct blood supply, therefore they don’t have a direct line-in of nutrients. This means the dynamic compression and release of spinal movement is how you keep your discs hydrated with fluid-exchange and fresh nutrients.  

By limiting the movement in your spine, you limit the health of your intervertebral discs.  

People may be afraid to move their spine because of back pain, or perhaps simply because they don’t think to. Did you know that sitting compresses your spine?  

For a healthy spine with fresh, fluid, and buoyant discs, regular movement in all directions is a necessity.  

This can be as easy as regularly standing up from seated throughout your day to flex, extend, twist, and side-bend gently through your spine.

It doesn’t have to be forceful movement or intense stretching either! Just enough to squeeze and release your discs to bathe them in fresh nutrients.  

Even with back pain, you can usually find a comfortable way to gently move your spine. Unless your doctor has advised you otherwise, finding workable methods to move your body in all directions is important for optimal health.  

In Tuesday Active Class, I’ll go over the anatomy of the spine. We’ll focus in on feeling the compression and release of your intervertebral discs as we move in all directions throughout class.  

In Wednesday Yin Yoga, we’ll lighten up on the anatomy portion and focus more on the sensation of deep stretching through the front, sides, and back of your spine.  

In Friday Gentle Class, you’ll isolate movements in each of the three major sections of the spine as well as your sacrum and assess how this changes your overall range of motion.  

If you are currently experiencing back pain, you’re welcome to join. If any of the exploration doesn’t feel beneficial, you will not be pressured to do it. You might just find a new way to move that’s comfortable and can help you heal.  

Hope to see you soon!  

*Thanks to Eric Franklin for this and many of the images we use in class. For more, check out his book Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery.