20 Aug YOU’RE AS OLD AS YOUR SPINE
There is an ancient proverb that says that you’re only as old as your spine. In term’s of your training, it is a great opportunity to evaluate how much spine specific training you’re currently doing, if any. Here’s why this is important…
From a biomechanics point of view, your spine is 24 bones from the base of your skull down to your tailbone. These are the bumps on your back that you associate as your “vertebrae”. These bones come together or articulate with one another, and make up the joints on either side of your spinal column. When you get adjusted or have your spine manipulated, or you crank and rotate your spine in your chair (for sure don’t do that), the popping noise is coming from the small joints in your spine. This is technically passive motion, as you used leverage and torque, or a qualified doctor or practitioner, to move the joints in your spine.
But you should also be able to move your spine under your own control. Most people who I treat don’t have great “segmental” control of their spine. Meaning, their spine moves in “chunks”. This isn’t good from a injury prevention standpoint. Think about it, if you were to stand upright, and arch yourself backwards, would it be better to have each of your joints extend or arch backwards individually creating a nice smooth arc, or have all of your bend come from let’s say one joint or hinge point in your lower back? The answer is obvious.
Seeing people with poor spinal mobility was something that was seen plain as day during my time coming up through chiropractic school and treating in student clinic. We constantly saw people who had pretty bad passive motion in their spine, let alone active mobility of their spine. It was really after my training with the great folks over at Functional Range Conditioning (FRC), where an exercise that I had done for many years as part of our standard jiu-jitsu warm-up, was dissected and discussed in length. This exercise is the Cat-Cow, a movement derived from yoga. (Note: I constantly use Cat-Cow, although sometimes I say Cat-Camel. I’m not sure which one is right, I’ve been corrected both ways by people in the know. I am not anchored to either name, I just love the movement.)
Most people rush through this exercise, and thereby missing out on all the true benefits. From an FRC lens, segmental motion or moving each vertebra through individual joint motion to the best of your ability should be the “goal”. Now, this is a very broad way to approach this exercise, and different individuals will have different needs, and this should all be gathered through the appropriate assessment. However, for most people, especially those without pain, and rather with general stiffness in the spine, this exercise can be very beneficial.
When performing this exercise you will be transitioning your spine from full flexion to full extension. From cat to cow. Try and go from your tail up towards your head by moving one joint at a time. Or in reverse. It’s ok if you can’t do it well. Neither can I. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice everyday. Obviously, if you have pain get it checked out by a professional.
Below is a video of me during my daily practice. As you can see I’m pretty average at doing this. I’m good at a couple things in this video. Flexing my thoracic spine or rounding my mid back, and extending my lumbar spine or arching my low back. I’m pretty bad at extending my thoracic spine or arching my mid back. This can be problematic for my neck, as can be seen when I try to extend my cervical spine or arch my neck and look up, I’m very limited because the first 10 bones of my thoracic spine don’t like moving in that direction. No bueno.
You can time the movement with your breath, as in yoga. I try to not worry about how many repetitions I’m doing, rather I set a timer for 10 minutes and purposely and diligently move my spine under my control.
Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for me!