Your Spine and You

Brandy Kaasa - Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The spine is, literally, the backbone of your life. Such an important body part deserves to be healthy so that you, too, can be healthy and happy. There is a lot that goes on in the spine, a lot more than many would suspect.

The spine is known by many names, such as the spinal column, the vertebral column, or the backbone. The backbone contains many parts that keep your head on straight, and any problems or changes in any of those parts can cause numerous problems, including headaches and back pain, jaw pain, and infantile colic.

What Makes Up the Spine?

The spine is comprised of 24 bones known as vertebrae. These vertebrae are connected to each other. They start at the skull and end at the pelvis, more specifically at a bone called the sacrum. The sacrum is located below the coccyx, or tailbone. There is a little something between the vertebrae called joints. These joints are protected by intervertebral discs (IVDs), which act as fluid-filled "pillows". This structure does quite a lot, but most importantly it protects the spinal cord. Not only are there 24 vertebrae, but these bones have different names and functions depending on their shape and location along the spine.

Cervical Vertebrae
There are seven of these vertebrae and they are located at the top of your spine by your skull. Known as cervical vertebrae, these bones are what allow your neck to turn. Cervical vertebrae are very lightweight, lending flexibility and a great range of motion to our necks. These seven bones are labeled C1 through C7.

Thoracic Vertebrae
The next twelve bones in the line are the thoracic vertebrae. These are the main part of your spine and are located in your upper back. Each thoracic vertebrae is connected to a rib. Without these bones, we'd have a hard time containing important organs like the lungs and heart and keeping them safe from bumps and scrapes.

Lumbar, Sacrum, and Coccyx
The rest of your spine is made up of the lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum, and the coccyx. The lumbar vertebrae are in your lower back and are the sturdy base of your spine; they support the weight of your head and torso. The sacrum is surrounded by the pelvic bones, or illium, on either side. The sacrum consists of five bones that are fused together. The tailbone or coccyx has four fused vertebrae.

Shaping the Spine

All of these bones work together to create a spine that we use to walk, sit, and move. They don't do this in a straight line, however. These bones are meant to have curves. Sometimes these curves go the wrong way and are curved too far from side to side, as seen in scoliosis. But small curves from front to back are normal and very healthy. These curves have other benefits as well, including increased flexibilty, balance, and shock absorption. There are three curves the spine normally has: cervical lordosis, or the curve in the neck; thoracic kyphosis, or the curve in the upper back; and lumbar lordosis, or the curve in the low back.

Problems in the Spine

Vertebral Subluxations
Each vertebrae has a hole in it known as the vertebral foramen. This hole is what the spinal cord goes through. Any misalignment or restriction in the movement of the spine can affect the spinal cord. This is known as a subluxation and can be the cause of many problems like headaches or ear infections. There are a number of ways that a subluxation can occur, including trauma, sports activities, or office work. Repetitive motions are especially good at causing subluxations. Luckily, chiropractors can correct these subluxations by using safe and gentle actions called adjustments.

Chiropractors can identify subluxations a few different ways. One of the ways is using palpation, or using the sense of touch, to find subluxations. There are other indicators that a subluxation is present, such as restricted movements, postural problems, and muscle tension. Chiropractors can also use orthopedic and neurological tests to further identify problems.

Herniated Discs
Sometimes, the IVDs, or intervertebral discs, may begin to move and this creates a condition known as a herniated disc. The pain from this condition might be felt only in the area of the herniated disc but, unfortunately, it is all too common for the pain to radiate into the extremities, or even the head. Herniated discs are also known as slipped discs but this name does not accurately describe what occurs. The disc itself does not move but the jelly-like interior comes out of the disc. Many times, it seems that the only way to fix a disc herniation is through surgery. This is not the case for many patients, though, because chiropractic is often a safe, noninvasive alternative to surgery to fix a herniated disc. In fact, with chiropractic adjustments, disc herniation can be prevented by realigning the vertebrae before the disc can herniate.

How's Your Spine?
Your spine is a wonderful structure and should be maintained as such. Remember, even small misalignments can cause pain and discomfort. So, how's your spine doing today? Not sure? Well, the best way to check is to schedule an appointment at Spinal Health Professionals for an examination today.