Irrrespective of how you understand the intelligence behind the designs of life, whether unconscious mechanistic evolution or divine intervention, we can all marvel at the beauty and functionality present. What more beautiful place to begin with than our own spines. Mechanicaly and biologically a feat worthy of the deepest appreciation and gratitude, and best of all, we all have one of these running right through the centre of our own being. How impressive is that?
The health of our spines is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects in popular exercise practices and general physical health understandings. As a movement therapist I can say that it would seem that issues within this structure of structures is difficult for the majority of the population to avoid, at present.
When understanding the biomechanical nature of the human body, most roads inevitably lead to the core of our being first, the spinal column. Not only does this beautiful system reside spatially at the center of our being, but it also constitutes the primary foundation upon and from which our every action was destined to originate, neurologically and biomechanically. This collection of 33 vertebrae, either fused or articulating, 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. Also, it is centrally positioned, this alone implicates it in so much of what we do. It could be said to be the most important and necessary structure in human movement. This becomes self evident to anyone that faces spinal injury or pain, the extent to which all movements are affected cannot be emphasised enough. Considering these roles, it is scary to acknowledge that most of us do not even understand it’s role in movement, never mind how to exercise or maintain it.
Anyone that has experience as a physical or movement therapist, coach, or he whom has simply lived a lengthy life, knows that escaping spine problems altogether is a very fortunate affair, unless worked at diligently for a lifetime. Everywhere you look there is back pain in some way, shape or form. This pervasive issue has a number of interesting and pertinent 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 will all lead to leakages 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 is able to do so much as a result of its incredibly intelligent design, both simple and complex in different ways. If simplified, it could be thought of 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 impacts with elasticity and rebound. In order to achieve this, the spinal column is divided into many smaller segments, or bones, 26 to be exact, each separated from the next by another marvelous character in this story, the intervertebral disc (IVD). When healthy, this is a superhero that gives the spine many of its powers, but in many cases it becomes the villain that tends to be the primary site of degeneration, pain and dysfunction. More on this bipolar fella just now. Each boney vertebrae is thus connected to the adjacent through the IVD, as well a number of joints, mostly facet joints. It is really these two groups of connecting structures that much of my discussion relates to. Degeneration and failure most commonly occur at the IVD, whilst changes in spine mechanics are largely ‘stored’ and reinforced by changes within facet joint connective tissue.
One of the most crucial things to come to terms with in the IVD is that they do not have their own blood supply, and similarly to other connective tissues tend to have a very low metabolic rate, particularly in comparison to muscle. How most of the nutrient-containing fluid reaches the discs is by diffusion from the blood supply of the adjacent vertebrae, through what is called the cartilaginous end-plate of the body of the vertebrae.