Why is Neutral Spine Important in All Exercises?

Three natural curves are present in a healthy spine. The neck/ cervical spine, the mid-back/ thoracic spine and the lower back/ lumbar spine. The neutral alignment is important in helping to cushion the spine from too much stress. Learning how to maintain a neutral spine position also helps you move safely during activities like sitting, walking, and lifting- most importantly it also helps you to stop looking like a caveman/ women!!

The natural curves of the spine are the result of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that attach to the vertebrae of the spine. Without these supporting structures, the spine would collapse. They support the spine – much like guide wires support the mast of a ship. This guide wire system is made up mainly of the abdominal and back muscles. The abdominal muscles provide support by attaching to the ribs, pelvis, and indirectly to the lumbar spine. The muscles of the back are arranged in layers, with each layer playing an important role in balancing the spine. By using these muscles together, it is possible to change the curves of the spine.

Controlling pelvic tilt is one way to begin helping to balance the spine. As certain muscles of the back and abdomen contract, the pelvis rotates. As the pelvis rotates forward, the lumbar curve increases. As the pelvis rotates backward, the curve of the low back straightens. Rotation of the pelvis is like a wheel centred at the hip joint. The muscles of the upper thighs also attach to the pelvis and contraction of these muscles can be used to change the curve of the spine. The abdominal muscles work alone, or with the hamstring muscles to produce a backward rotation of the pelvis. This causes the slight inward curve of the low back to straighten. If these muscles cause the curve of the low back to straighten too much, this may produce an unhealthy slouching posture. In the other direction, as the hip flexors contract and back extensors contract, the pelvis is rotated forward – increasing the curvature of the lower back. If this curve is increased too much, another unhealthy posture may result. This condition is called lordosis in medical terminology or swayback in common terms.

A balance of strength and flexibility is the key to maintaining the neutral spine position. This balance is the basis for optimal muscle function. Like a car, an imbalance may lead to wear and tear, eventually damaging the various parts of the car. Muscle imbalances that affect the spine have many causes. One common cause of muscle imbalance is weak abdominal muscles. As the abdominal muscles sag, the hip flexors become tight, causing an increase in the curve of the low back. This leads to the swayback posture mentioned above. Another common problem results from tight hamstrings. As the hamstring muscles become tight, the pelvis is rotated backwards. This produces an abnormal slouching posture.

This therefore will affect us when we move as postural imbalances will not only affect the position of our lower limbs, it will also affect the position of the spine and upper/ lower back. In Part 2 we will look at simple programme modifications to help improve your posture.

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