Whether you believe unconscious mechanistic evolution or divine intervention is responsible for life’s designs, either way, you can marvel at the beauty and functionality that has come to be. What more beautiful place to begin our journey than with our spines. Mechanically and biologically it’s design is a feat worthy of the most profound appreciation and gratitude, and best of all, we all have one of these running right through the centre of our being.
The health of our spines is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of popular exercise practices and common physical health understandings. Problems within this system of structures are unavoidable for the majority of the population, due to the insult caused by our comfortable Westernized lifestyle, which is comprised of variations of sitting, heeled and cushioned shoes, and the flattening of all of our walking surfaces.
When understanding the biomechanical nature of the human body, most roads inevitably lead to the core of our being, the spinal column. Not only does this beautiful system reside spatially at the centre of our being, but it also constitutes the primary foundation upon and from which our every physical action will originate. This collection of 33 vertebrae, either fused or moving, houses a large portion of our nervous system (spinal cord), provides structure, support, and movement to the organ containing torso and head, and among many other roles, provides the foundation for the pelvis, shoulder-girdle and rib-cage to attach and perform their functions from.
It sits at our centre, implicated in all that we do. It is the essential structure in human movement. The extent to which our spine is implicated in all of our movement becomes obvious to anyone with spinal pain or injury. It is frightening to acknowledge that most of us do not appreciate it’s role in movement, never mind how to care for or maintain it.
It is a very fortunate affair to escape spinal issues altogether unless worked on diligently for a lifetime. Everywhere we look, there is back pain in some way, shape or form. This pervasive issue has several factors to consider. From a biomechanical perspective, as I’ve already stated, this structure is the base of function and performance. Weakness, immobility, and lack of control here will lead to losses in stability, force production and efficiency, and eventually injury. Like many of our other patterns of movement, we have lost so much in this system.
The spinal column can do so much as a result of its astonishingly intelligent design, both simple and complex in different ways. In simple terms, think of it as a pillar, or column, which supports and protects. However, this pillar can flex, extend, side-bend, and twist, as well as absorb shock from impact with elasticity and so rebound. This is possible because the spinal column is divided into many small segments, or bones, 26 to be exact, each separated from the next by another marvellous character in this story, the intervertebral disc (IVD). When healthy, this is truly a superhero that gives the spine many of its powers. However, in many cases, it becomes a villain that tends to be the primary site of deterioration, pain, and dysfunction. Each boney vertebrae connects to the adjacent through the IVD, as well as several joints, mostly facet joints.
One crucial thing to come to terms with is that the IVD does not have a direct blood supply, and similarly to other connective tissues tend to have a meagre metabolic rate. Most of the nutrient-containing fluid reaches the discs by diffusion from the blood supply of the adjacent vertebrae, through the cartilaginous end-plate of the body of the vertebrae. It is vital to acknowledge this low metabolism because it significantly slows down the healing rates within these tissues. IVD injuries are incredibly common and take a very long time to heal completely; this poses a significant challenge for people managing pain or injury in these areas.
Our spines are absolutely miraculous in what they are able to do. However, this miracle means that a substantial amount of movement function will be affected when the spine becomes injured. It is a significant priority to nurture the health of our spines. Ido Portal quoted ‘the Chinese’ as saying, “You are as old as your spine.”, so lets stay youthful by taking good care of our spines.