The Importance of Neutral Spine
How many hours per day do you spend bent over your phone, laptop, or other device? It’s a common problem that’s resulting in more than just slouching.
Sitting in a collapsed posture day in and day out results in excessive loading on four of the 24 vertebrae of the spine. By proxy, the facet joints connected with these vertebrae are strained.
We may head to the gym every evening in hopes of keeping our bodies healthy after slouching all day. Unfortunately, when you perform your fitness program with a collapsed posture, it really only strengthens your continued ability to do so.
This is what makes Pilates different. The importance of neutral spine is emphasized in every single movement – both on and off the mat or equipment.
What Is a Neutral Spine?
If you’ve been in a Pilates class, it’s highly likely that you’ve heard the term neutral spine from your instructor. You may even have a basic understanding that it’s the ideal posture in which your back and neck are positioned in such a way that causes the least amount of stress and strain on the spine.
And that’s pretty much it.
Every person’s spine contains three natural curves. The cervical spine comprises the vertebrae in the neck. The thoracic spine contains the vertebrae of the upper back as well as those that connect with the ribs. As such, it has the lowest range of movement. And the lumbar spine consists of the vertebrae in the lower back – which tends to have a lot of range and, therefore, more possibility for injury.
At the very base of the spine is the sacrum. It is made of five fused vertebrae that look like an inverted triangular bone.
When the spine is in neutral, those three spinal curves function optimally to absorb shock as you execute all forms of movement. Ideally, you want to maintain and reinforce these natural curves in everything you do. Because the more you deviate from neutral spine, the more the discs and vertebrae experience the force of gravity.
But keeping the spine in neutral maintains an acceptable amount of tension on the ligaments and joints. It allows us to keep our posture centered rather than being too far tilted forward or backward. And, bottom line, it gives us the greatest stability with every single function.
What Happens In Perpetual Collapsed Posture
Above, we mentioned four distinct vertebrae that take the load of collapsed posture. If collapsed posture is not corrected, those vertebrae could come out of alignment and result in all sorts of problems.
The first vertebra in the neck, C1, can come out of alignment and result in headaches and issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Meanwhile, the disc between vertebrae C6 and C7 can easily become herniated. Shoulder problems and nerve pain down the arm are often caused by this condition.
Meanwhile, a collapsed upper back at the 12th vertebra of the thoracic spine (T12) can cause the ribs to flare during lifting and increase the risk for compression fractures, rib displacement, and compromised lung function.
Finally, the disc between the last vertebra of the lumbar spine (L5) and the first fused vertebra of the sacrum or sacral spine (S1) is the most commonly herniated – frequently as a result of collapsed posture. It can be the cause for lower back pain, nerve pain down the leg, issues with the sciatic nerve, and problems with the hip, knee and ankle because of asymmetrical loading.
How Do You Find Neutral Spine Alignment?
Everyone has their own unique spine and pelvic alignment. Of course, a skilled Pilates instructor or physical therapist can help you recognize when your spine is in neutral. So taking regular Pilates classes is tremendously helpful in discovering neutral spine alignment and then learning how to apply this to your everyday activities.
But if you want to start playing with how to find neutral spine while at home, try the following:
Standing sideways in front of a full-length mirror, bring your feet together so that your big toes touch and the outer edges of your feet are parallel.
Take a deep breath and imagine what a neutral spine looks like. When you exhale, gently tilt your pelvis back and draw your navel toward your spine. Maintain this position during the next inhale, then consciously drop your shoulders away from your ears and roll them back slightly on the next exhale. Then VERY slightly, tuck the chin.
You’ll likely need to play a bit with the anterior and posterior tilt of your pelvis. Once you find that balance though, you’ll know. It will feel stable. And it will be the ideal base for your spine. From there, you can incorporate it into your everyday movements to lessen stiffness and reduce the risk of injury.
Especially during your fitness routine.
Discover the Importance of Neutral Spine With Pilates
If you’re interested in experiencing firsthand how Pilates stresses the importance of neutral spine though strengthening and toning your core, contact us!
Developing a natural inclination toward neutral spine through Pilates will make a huge difference in moving safely through every other aspect of your life.
Give it a try! You’ll be glad you did.