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Spine Anatomy and Spine Problems


By: Mike Bills, MS PT

In order to understand why spine problems get started, let’s first talk about spine anatomy.  Your spine is comprised of many vertebrae. These are the bones that make up your spine and they’re like rocks that sit on top of each other in a very specific fashion. In order for the spine to do its job, these vertebra must sit on top of each other, from your neck all the way to your tailbone, in a curve that looks like the letter S. This S-curve is comprised of a few smaller curves in different parts of your spine that look like the letter C. There is a C-curve in your neck with the open portion of the C facing backwards, a C-curve in your upper back where the open portion faces forward, and a C-curve in your lower back where the open portion faces backwards. The final piece of your spine is your tailbone, which is a C-curve that faces forward. In order to prevent back problems from starting, it is important that these curves all stay positioned so that each one is directly over the top of the next.

The job of your spine is to function like the trunk of a tree. It provides support and holds you upright so that you can move your arms and your legs and do all the things you want to do during the day such as  walk, run, bend over, carry things, reach up overhead, etc. When the curves of your spine are not in good alignment with one another, it not only makes these tasks and everything else you do during the day more difficult, but it also puts you at risk for a beck injury or an injury in some other part of your body.

In between each of these bones or vertebrae in your spine, there is a structure called a disc. The job of the disc is two-fold. First, the disc is there to create a space in between the two vertebra. This space is important because it makes room for the nerve to branch off from your spinal cord and go to where ever it needs to go. The second purpose of the disc is that it creates a cushion between the two bones. This is extremely important when we are moving around because we typically produce about 1 ½ times worth our body weight in stress through the spine with these simple tasks. Most importantly though, the disc is there to create space for the nerve to exit the spine.

Issues with discs occur when the alignment of the spine and the positioning of those curves in the spine is not optimal. When the spine starts to lose its curve in one area, or gain it in another, this places a significant amount of stress onto the disc, (as well as muscles around the spine). The disc is like a jelly donut and is not very strong on its own. So this added stress quickly becomes a problem and the disc starts to break down. This makes it less able to do its job and problems in the spine quickly progress.

Finally, surrounding the spine, we have many muscles. These muscles are what help to hold the spine upright, create movement and also absorb shock and impact to the spine. In order for muscles to function properly, they need to have the correct balance of both strength and flexibility. What this means is that if a muscle is too tight, too weak or too strong in comparison to the other muscles around the spine, this creates a shift in the curves of the spine and the alignment of the bones on one another. This then begins to pull things out of alignment and spine problems start, progress and get worse.

Regardless of whether it is the muscle, spinal alignment of the vertebra, disc, or a nerve that is causing your spine problem, there is a simple, effective and permanent way to fix the problem and get you back to living an active and pain-free lifestyle, regardless of how long the problem has been present.

In all spine problems a course of treatment must include the following:

  • Achieve optimal curve and alignment of the spine
  • Ensure that the space between vertebra is open and thus the canal for the nerve is not impinged.
  • Achieve and maintain proper working relationship of all muscles around the spine. This includes not just the area around the painful site but the entire spine, as well as the arms and legs

An expert physical therapist who is fully trained in “hands on physical therapy” will be able to address the problem fully from all aspects for you. A manual physical therapist is trained just as a chiropractor is to utilize mobilization and manipulation techniques to correct alignment and curvature of the spine. With the additional training of a physical therapist, a manual physical therapist is then able to address the muscular component of the spine as well. These combined expert skills are effective in handling all spine problems and thus fixing them once and for all whether they be caused by spinal alignment, muscle injury, disc, nerve issues and more. Call our office today at 703-450-4300 and start addressing your spine problem for good.

CLICK HERE for a closer look at the spine itself. 

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