Do you have neck pain? Have you had an X-ray, MRI, or CAT scan of your neck? Has your doctor ever said “you’ve lost the natural curve in your neck”? Ever wonder what that means and how it affects you?
WHY DO WE HAVE SPINAL CURVES?
The number one role of the spine is to protect our spinal cord and nerves. However, the role of the spinal curve is to absorb the force and shock of gravity as it travels up the spine. The curve is able to do this by acting as a “natural spring”.
With each step we take, gravity brings your body back to the ground. As your foot lands on the ground, an equal and opposite force travels through our body. This force starts in our legs, and proceeds into our hips, lower back, and continues to the top of our neck.
In an average step, you do not feel this force, but it is still there. Since our brain constantly receives information from the entire body, research tells us that the brain can only consciously processes less than 1% of that information. Your body and brain recognize the upward force of a normal step, but your brain decides not to bring it to your attention. Lucky for us, otherwise we really would have short attention spans!
So what is all this hype about force? What is a force? Let’s explain. Everyone knows that the force of gravity pulls you back down when you jump. What most do not know is that we are surrounded by forces at all times. We even create many of them.
Take a car ride for example. If you are traveling at a high speed and hit your brakes for an animal in the road, the car slows down faster than the driver. Subsequently, the driver is pushed forward in their seat. Often the passenger reaches their arms forward to brace themselves on the dashboard. Exactly what pushed the driver and passenger forward? A natural force created by the acceleration and deceleration of the car.
Similar forces act upon the body as we take each step. The force of gravity pulls the body downward, while the ground equally counteracts, sending stressful forces upward through the body.
Be assured…these forces are not small. Philipp Lodenhoffen’s studied these forces in his 2008 book “Osteotomies Around the Knee”. He found that while taking a walking step, the force traveling up from the ground is measured as high as 340% of the person’s body weight.
Daniel J. Berry and Jay Lieberman did a similar study on the hip, as cited in their 2013 book “Surgery of the Hip”. They found the average force traveling into the hip is 238% of the person’s body weight. The highest force they saw was 410% of the body weight, that traveled through the hips with each step!
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE FORCE AS IT PASSES THROUGH THE LEG AND REACHES THE HIP?
Next, the force travels into the spine! This starts with the lower back, known as the lumbar spine. Much like the neck, the lumbar spine has a natural, forward bending curve. This curve is designed to absorb the forces which continue up the body. This is so important! If the body does not absorb and reduce the forces traveling upward, the heavy load will repetitively crush the smaller structures at the top. Over time, this will cause them to breakdown and become painful!
After the lumbar spine, the forces continue into the mid-back or thoracic spine. The curve in this area is in the opposite direction as the curve in the low back and neck.
The thoracic spine is almost twice the size of any other spinal section. This means that it plays a tremendous role in reducing the destructive forces that are traveling up the spine. With each step you take, the spinal bones and discs pump up and down. This is similar to how the gel in a running shoe compresses and then springs you back up as you stride.
In addition, the thoracic curve is extra-strong since each thoracic vertebra is tightly adhered to two ribs. The ribs extend out from the sides of each thoracic segment. Think of it like a basketball rim attaches to its frame.
As the forces continue up through the thoracic spine, they are naturally and effectively reduced. However, they are still quite destructive as they make their way to the next spinal curve.
THE CERVICAL CURVE
The neck, or cervical curve is the final stop. This curve bends forward much like the lower back or lumbar spine.
The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae and six discs. Just like the lumbar and thoracic spine, these discs are designed to help cushion our movements and reduce the forces working their way up the spine. However, the vertebra and discs in the cervical spine are significantly smaller than in the lower spine. This means they are not designed to take on large forces.
SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN LARGE FORCES MAKE THEIR WAY TO THE NECK?
Spinal breakdown! When an area of the spine can no longer handle the stress, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs will begin to tear. When we tear connective tissue, that area of the spine becomes weak and unstable. Then it makes the spine more susceptible to further injury. Although most people start to feel neck pain at this point, some will not feel pain for years or even decades.
After the spine weakens, spinal misalignment will occur. This is the single most destructive process in the body! The spine is only designed to work in proper balance. Once the spine is misaligned, the body negatively reacts and:
· The spine loses its ability to properly absorb forces.
· The body’s range of motion is reduced.
· Proprioception (feedback to the brain) is interrupted.
· The natural healing ability of the body is reduced.
· Biomechanics (proper motion) is altered.
· The spine loses its ability to protect nerves
All these things may cause PAIN! That is why Upper Cervical Chiropractic focuses on removing the origin of pain, by balancing the spine and removing misalignment.
Many other practitioners focus on the symptoms that follow spinal misalignment including: headaches, migraines, neck and back pain. However, only treating the symptoms is a temporary solution and not a way to rid yourself of the problem. That’s why many people struggle with the same symptoms repeatedly for the majority of their life.
It is important to know that tissue breakdown does not only happen in the neck. If a severe stress is placed on the low back for example, the connective tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and discs) will tear there as well. This is often the immediate cause for low back pain and the all-to-common sciatica.
SO WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CURVES WHEN THE SPINE MISALIGNS?
That is the perfect question! Amazingly there is a different answer for each part of the spine.
1. LUMBAR SPINE (LOW BACK)
When the lumbar spine has been damaged and loses stability, it begins to bend or curve to the left or to the right. For example, imagine that you have a golf club in your hand and lean on it, as if it were a cane. The shaft will bend or curve in one direction or the other. Similar stress of the lumbar spine creates the same effect. This in time will lead to degeneration and arthritis of the low back, causing significant amounts of recurring pain.
2. THORACIC SPINE (MID-BACK)
With damage and misalignment, the curve in the thoracic spine increases. This is the only place where this happens. The vertebra can compress and develop small breaks or fractures, commonly known as compression fractures. Over time the nerves of the mid-back become affected, leading to tight, pinching muscles in between the shoulder blades.
3. CERVICAL SPINE (NECK)
An inescapable phenomenon happens in the neck after spinal misalignment. A healthy spine has the job of properly balancing the head. A normal cervical spine arches backward, balancing the head as we move around, seen in the image on the left.
When the spine is not aligned, the head is not in the correct position. The weight of the head then places even more stress on the spine and breakdown occurs, seen in the image on the right. As a result, the spine actually flips in the other direction, and the cervical spine arches forward instead of backward.
This inverted curve is a leading cause of headaches, neck pain, cervical radiculopathy, and shoulder pain! If the misaligned spinal curve is not treated, these problems remain. This is why patients experience chronic suffering and resort to powerful medication and steroid injections to temporarily dull the pain.
The best solution is to find a chiropractor who specializes in restoring proper balance to the spine, like an Upper Cervical Chiropractor. When an Upper Cervical Chiropractor makes a specific and controlled correction to the spine, the imbalance and curves begin to return to their normal, healthy position. An Upper Cervical Chiropractor is also called a NUCCA Chiropractor.
For those with severe spinal misalignments and loss of curves, there is still hope. Balance can be restored partially if not completely. A healthy, balanced body can adapt around any remaining spinal breakdown. This helps regain mobility and eliminates the pain cycle.
If you have not seen pictures of your spine, but think you may have lost some of your spinal curves, here are symptoms you may notice:
• Neck pain
• Back pain
• Hip pain
• Pain while standing periods of time
• Difficulty sleeping (especially on your back)
• Head feeling heavy
Does this sound like you? Likely you have lost curves in your spine. Click below to schedule your consultation with one of our NUCCA Chiropractors.
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