Why is spinal posture/structure important?
Spinal structural/postural correction is the focus on optimizing overall spinal alignment to ensure pain-free motion and injury prevention. The spine works as one unit that functions as the foundation of your body. The spine typically consists of 33 vertebrae: 24 individual vertebrae from skull to pelvis, with the sacrum (5 fused vertebrae) as the base within the pelvis and the coccyx (typically 4 fused coccygeal vertebrae) known as “the tailbone.” These 33 vertebrae--along with the muscles and ligaments that attach to them--work together to allow proper movement and overall function of the body. Proper position and balance of each individual vertebrae and the spine as a whole is imperative for pain-free motion and posture.
Think of your spine as the structural foundation of a skyscraper. If this foundation is not in the proper position, you can expect the building to be unsteady, applying unwanted stress to the structures that hold the building upright. Over time, the stress on these structures can cause the building to buckle, leaving it more susceptible to damage caused by factors that otherwise would not be a problem (e.g. wind, increased weight from equipment and people inside, etc.) You can spend time and money patching up all the damage being done to these structures, but these problems will continue to recur until the foundation is corrected.
The spine and chiropractic treatment can be thought of in this way. Chiropractic care without addressing postural spinal integrity can be compared to the patchwork of a building with a poor foundation. In this situation, chiropractic care works more like a natural aspirin, rather than a viable long-term solution. If the problem in the structure is not corrected, the muscles will continue to be overworked. The muscles can then become spastic and inflamed, causing the spine to move improperly, leaving your body susceptible to chronic pain, early arthritis/spinal degeneration, and injury. Research has shown that poor posture can also be a causative factor in depression, headaches, muscle aches/stiffness, joint pain, decreased respiratory function, hormone imbalance, and more.
How do these postural abnormalities develop?
Different scenarios in life can alter the function of the spine by affecting either the individual vertebrae or the overall position and posture of the spine. Injury, muscular imbalances, and repetitive positioning/movements can all alter spinal position and function. The spine's position during work, recreation, or other everyday activities (like sleeping, texting, watching TV, and so on) can all contribute to abnormal spinal positions. Once an abnormal spinal posture has been developed, gravity is constantly compressing the spine, making these abnormal postures worse and amplifying the negative effects as the supporting structures (muscles and ligaments) must work harder to maintain an upright position. Over time, the nervous system starts to recognize these abnormal postures as its new “normal.”
The nervous system’s primary goal when it comes to posture is to be sure your eyes remain forward and level. It does this by keeping the skull forward and level. The skull can be considered a vertebra which sits on top of the spine. If the skull (or any part of the spine) falls into an abnormal position, the rest of the spine will adapt to level off the skull, regardless of the consequences to the rest of the spine or body. As the structural correction pioneer Dr. Pettibon explains, “The nervous system always wants us to hold our heads upright. And the nervous system will do this at the expense of displacing the lower spine.”
How will we correct this?
The atlas (the top vertebrae of the spine on which the skull sits) has a strong neural connection to the brain and is the primary sensor for head position. This is because most of the movement of the skull happens in this area, therefore the brain needs constant feedback from this area to have a full understanding of where your head is positioned in relation to the rest of the body. If the atlas is not in the optimal position, the skull will also not be in the proper position. Because the body cannot correct the atlas specifically on its own, it will cause the spine as a whole to shift underneath, resulting in increased unwanted physical stress. The longer this new position is maintained, the more the brain recognizes this as the new normal. This is why the Balanced Body Center utilizes NUCCA to accurately realign the atlas as well as gentle, full spine adjustment techniques to align the rest of the spine. In conjunction with the chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, massage therapy, and Pettibon rehabilitation are utilized together to strengthen muscles that have become weak, stretch muscles that have become shortened, and re-train the nervous system to hold a healthy posture.