The function of the spine is enormous and inherently a byproduct of the many bones, joints, muscles, fascia, and ligaments that work together to produce complex movements. From rolling to sitting, to standing to walking, to running, climbing, and jumping, the synergy of the spinal system is awe-inspiring.
When everything works together, it is seamless and pain-free.
When things go wrong with the Spine
When there is discoordination of the system, imbalance arises, leading to inefficiency and decreased function. That is when we notice things like stiffness or reduced range of motion that can later become pain or overuse injury patterns.
Add in some force or velocity, such as a fall or motor vehicle accident, and this introduces tissue shear or torque that can acutely injure the weakest link in the system.
Although resting or treating the injured spinal muscle or joint makes sense in these acute settings, when we fail to normalize the complex, integrated function of the entire spinal system, we are left with long-term limitations, pain, or increased susceptibility to future injury.
That is why many people will say, “Once I injured my back, it never felt the same.”
What does ideal spinal movement look like?
Have you ever watched the spine of a healthy toddler when they are squatting, climbing, or running? It certainly gives us something to aspire to. They move in nice arcs and spirals, with each segment moving synergistically to create resiliency with flexible strength, dynamic loading, and a solid foundation for the extremities to follow.
I know your first response to this example is, look, I’m not a toddler anymore. And that’s okay, neither am I. The key thing to remember is that our nervous system is the repository for wisdom, both past, present, and future.
The brain that learned how to move in those dynamic and functional patterns remains even if your structural body has matured, changed in strength, has had its injuries, and other forms of structural adaptation. We can do better by challenging ourselves to a higher aim (i.e., moving to the highest quality possible). When we do this, it unlocks a capacity for greater innovation and healing.
We don’t want to “settle” for lower quality movement than what we can access. No matter where we are starting from, when we strive towards activating this higher aim, we become problem solvers and start using the spine in more innovative and efficient ways.
Shifting our relationship with spinal movement in our everyday life:
- Don’t keep moving the same way that creates pain or injury.
- Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Many of us complain about our sore neck and yet keep sitting the same way for 8 hours a day. We must shift out of fragmented movement patterns back into an integrated way of functioning. Getting to the root cause of back pain often means changing the way we move.
- Reimagine movement quality, not just quantity.
- We want to challenge our neuromuscular system to create the most sophisticated patterning possible. That means we need to think more about movement quality, not just quantity. Physical activity isn’t just about how many calories we burn. We need to also be mindful of the quality of patterns that impact force absorption, distribution, and coordination. This will impact performance, efficiency, and injury prevention. Static activities like standing and sitting can also be better leveraged. We can learn to activate patterns of postural stabilization in these everyday movements rather than just slouching and collapsing in our spine.
- Force and power don’t solve every problem.
- As great as power and strength can be, we don’t want to use force to solve all our movement problems. We don’t want to push harder through inefficient patterns. We don’t want one member of the musculoskeletal group to do all the work. We don’t want to repetitively overload a joint with forces that are not correctly distributed across the system. When we merge optimal neuromuscular activation patterns with strength and power, we become more resilient and capable of higher performance with less risk of injury.
- Quality spinal movement sets the stage for the extremities to follow.
- It isn’t called the “core” for nothing. When the spine performs optimally, it sets the stage for more productive function of the upper and lower extremities. This translates into better efficiency of movement with reduced risk of injuries to the shoulders, hips, knees, and elbows.
- Moving as a complex, integrative network is a goal that offers continual improvement.
- We are never done learning! It is no accident that we are born unprogrammed and spend the entirety of our life adapting and learning from our unique experiences and environment. In this way, the adventure of learning how to move as an integrative whole is never done. We are constantly faced with new challenges such as learning a new way of movement, such as sport or dance, rebounding from injury, or adapting from altered structure and function as we age. Rather than seeing these as points of limitation, we want to use these experiences to tap into the creative and innovative aspects of our system. Movement is our first teacher on purpose. We are meant to learn, refine, learn, adapt, learn again. We are never done learning and can happily die unfinished in this pursuit.
The best news? This is possible at every age and every spectrum of available function, from an 8-year-old to a 75-year-old. This challenge is a never-ending opportunity for learning that keeps our brains and bodies striving for optimal vigor, function, and vitality.
We do not want to mask pain. Nor do we want to suffer from neck or back pain exacerbations on a recurrent basis. Our backs should not make our lives smaller. When we restore optimal spinal function, our healthy back is the gateway to expanded freedom and quality of life.
Get Spine Help in Honolulu, Hawaii
No matter where you are on your journey, Dr. Gesik can help you identify and treat the root causes of your neck or back pain to learn how to let your stunning spine function to its optimal potential. IMUA Orthopedics, Sport, Health and Functional Medicine is located in the Medical Arts Building – Kamalani Tower at 1010 South King Street, Suite 401, Honolulu, HI 96814