A Plan to Enhance Spinal Health
Posted April 05, 2023 by Matthew Romans
Managing spinal health becomes even more important as we age. Damage to the vertebrae can be the result of many things: a car accident, poor sitting and standing posture, years of participation in sports, and lack of proper exercise. We can buck this trend for a while, but eventually if we don't do anything about it, pain and loss of function are the result. Spinal surgeries are a risky endeavor. Procedures can be costly, invasive, usually require follow up appointments and physical therapy, and in many cases the success rate of surgery is less than stellar. Lower back pain is not always indicative of structural damage; sometimes it is simply the result of weak musculature. A significant percentage of people will experience some disc or vertebral degeneration after the age of 40; some individuals experience pain while others do not. What if there was a way that you could improve functionality and mobility, reduce pain, and protect yourself against injury in less than one hour per week? If you think this sounds too good to be true, keep reading.
Gaining a basic knowledge of the structure of the spinal column will enable us to understand how we can best improve posture and reduce pain so that we can live an active lifestyle. There are five vertebral regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx. Only the top twenty-four vertebrae can move; the sacrum and coccyx are fused. A search of Mayfield Brain and Spine, National Institutes of Health, and the Cleveland Clinic yielded the function of each of the vertebral regions. The cervical vertebrae include C-1 through C-7, and their purpose is to support the head, protect the spinal cord, and allow for a range of head movements. The vertebrae of the thoracic region are T-1 through T-12, the most numerous of any of the five regions. These vertebrae also protect the spinal cord and provide attachment points for many large muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae. The lumbar vertebrae, L-1 through L-5, bear most of the weight of the body, provide back stability, and assist with balance. Along with the cervical vertebrae, the lumbar vertebrae are the structures most susceptible to damage. The sacrum consists of the vertebrae known as S1 through S5, and as I mentioned above these are fused and cannot move. Their primary function is to connect the spine with the hip bones. Finally we have the coccyx, colloquially known as the tailbone. This vertebrae is also fused and provides attachments for the ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor.
The foramen is defined as, "the bony hollow archway created by pedicles of adjacent vertebrae, creating a passageway through which all spinal nerve roots run." Age, disuse, and trauma can lead to a gradual narrowing of this opening, and is often associated with stenosis, disc herniation, bone spurs, and arthritis. Osteoporosis is also something to be concerned about as we age, as thinner bones are more likely to break. In order to maintain optimal spinal health, you should certainly be conscious of how you sit and stand, but you must also strengthen the muscles that surround and attach to the vertebrae. Total Results exercise is the safest and most comprehensive way to train the muscles that have the greatest impact on spinal health. First of all, you must strengthen the body as an entire unit; it is far more than just a collection of different body parts. Everything is interconnected, and if you strengthen some areas but neglect others, there will be muscular imbalances that can and usually do increase your risk for injury. There are four exercises that really highlight the Total Results plan for enhancing your spinal health. The Cervical Extension exercise, performed on our MedX Four Way Neck machine, targets the muscles which are responsible for cervical extension. These muscles include the levator scapulae, splenius, and trapezius, and they work to extend your head down toward your butt. The horseshoe shaped head pad swivels for comfort, and your seat should be set so that the base of your neck is aligned with the axis of rotation. Handlebars should be pressed with your hands to enable trunk stability. The thoracic vertebrae can be best addressed by performing both the Row (on either the MedX or Super Slow Systems machines) and the Pulldown exercises. The muscles surrounding and attaching to these vertebrae include the rhomboids, latissimus and trapezius muscles. The Pulldown, which is a vertical movement, has three separate cam positions based on arm length, and the thigh restraints are adjustable. It is such a comprehensive exercise that it encompasses the entire musculature of the upper body. The Row machine is a horizontal pulling movement, and is also adjustable by arm length. I should note that the MedX Row has articulating handles that can be a little more forgiving for clients with elbow issues, but both machines work exceptionally well. Finally, the MedX Lumbar Extension exercise is unlike any purported low back exercise that you find in commercial gyms. Most traditional low back machines enable you to get a great deal of assistance from your lower body muscles; our machine employs a restraint system and seat belt to place as much emphasis on the spinal erectors as possible. The muscles we are specifically targeting are the erector spinae and multifidus muscles, but you will also find some involvement in the glutes and hamstrings. Based on the recommendations of the late physical therapist and Super Slow instructor Gary Lindahl, normal range of motion is typically set at 50 degrees, but we can customize this distance by either altering your start or end point. Even if you suffer from injuries in these lumbar vertebrae (a good number of our clients do), going to muscular failure is perfectly safe provided proper speed and form are practiced. Finally, performing cervical and lumbar extension open up the space between vertebrae; this helps to provide relief for those suffering from impingement and disc herniation.
Performing numerous sets of abdominal crunches won't strengthen your back; it will likely do more harm than good. One or two twenty-minute high-intensity sessions per week is all that you need to optimize spinal health. Strengthening the muscles that attach to the spinal column is part of a comprehensive program for overall health. And if that's not enough, performing the Leg Press exercise will stabilize your coccyx by strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor. How do you want to live life when you approach your golden years: reliant upon mobility aids to get around and shuffling from one doctor appointment to the next, or do you want to be virile, strong, and fiercely independent? Make the investment in your present and your future today.