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Your Spine is Amazing!

What do you know about your spine?

Your spine is extremely important, working hard during every moment of your life. We all rely upon it constantly, yet how much do you know about your spine?

Stretching down the midline of the trunk from the base of the skull to the coccyx, the spine plays an extremely important role in our bodies. It’s three main functions of the spine are to:

  • Protect your spinal cord and nerve roots.
  • Provide structural support and balance to maintain an upright posture.
  • Enable flexible motion – allows you to bend, twist and turn and move your body.

There are three natural curves in the spine that give it an “S” shape when viewed from the side. These curves help the spine withstand great amounts of stress by providing a more even distribution of body weight.

The spine, also known as the vertebral column or spinal column, is a column of 26 bones in an adult body — 24 separate vertebrae interspaced with cartilage, and then additionally the sacrum and coccyx.  Prior to adolescence, the spine consists of 33 bones because the sacrum’s five bones and the coccyx’s four do not fuse together until adolescence.

4 Main parts of your spine:

Typically, the spine is divided into four main regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Each region has specific characteristics and functions – it’s amazing how hard they work for you:

1. Cervical Spine: The neck region of the spine is known as the Cervical Spine. This region consists of seven vertebrae, which are abbreviated C1 through C7 (top to bottom). These vertebrae protect the brain stem and the spinal cord, support the skull, and allow for a wide range of head movement.

2. Thoracic Spine: Next are the 12 vertebrae of the Thoracic Spine. These are abbreviated T1 through T12 (top to bottom). T1 is the smallest and T12 is the largest thoracic vertebra.  In addition to longer spinous processes, rib attachments add to the thoracic spine’s strength. These structures make the thoracic spine more stable than the cervical or lumbar regions. In addition, the rib cage and ligament systems limit the thoracic spine’s range of motion and protect many vital organs.

3. Lumbar Spine: The Lumbar Spine has 5 vertebrae abbreviated L1 through L5 (largest). The size and shape of each lumbar vertebra is designed to carry most of the body’s weight.

4. Below this is your Sacrum and Coccyx, which form part of your pelvis.

Between the vertebrae are the intervertebral discs – on which the vertebrae ‘float’ and between which exit the nerves from the spinal cord.

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is closely linked to the spinal cord, and this is the part of the nervous system responsible for control of the bodily functions not consciously directed, such as breathing, the heartbeat, and digestive processes.

The bigger picture

The spine also has ligaments and muscles attaching to it – important ones being the diaphragm which attaches via the crura onto L1-3 and the psoas muscle from T12-L4.  This is important as the psoas muscle flexes the hip – it is the one we use to sit down.  If it becomes tight from lots of sitting, it can affect the movement of the lumbar spine and the diaphragm – which is responsible for breathing. If the diaphragm movement is compromised, then the chest cavity and abdominal cavity and their organs, and the organ function will also be compromised – poor digestion, poor bowel movements, short of breath, tiredness due to lack of oxygen and so forth.

If a segment of our spine stops moving, then other segments will need to work harder to compensate.  Depending where this happens, it can affect various bodily functions as well as limiting our ability to move our body – for example turning our head to reverse the car, touching our toes, twisting to put our socks on.

Hopefully this short introduction to the spine and how it works gives some insight in how important it is that each of your spinal joints are able to move and that we keep them moving – think about the segments of a bicycle chain and how they all need to move smoothly.

If you have any questions about your spine, please give us a call and we can help get your spine moving correctly.

This summary was produced by Karen Robinson, a registered Osteopath and founder of the Shefford Osteopathic Clinic.