Going Deeper: Back & Spinal Conditions

See also: Healthy Posture.

Included here are readings and links on these topics:

  1. The effects of muscular imbalance
  2. Pelvic alignment issues
  3. The effects of aging
  4. More spinal issues

Muscular Imbalance

Lower Crossed Syndrome

Some muscles around the hip and spine become tight and some become weak and stretched, causing an imbalance. This is often known as a lower crossed syndrome. This is due to the position of the tight and weak muscles… If you drew a line from the tight lower back to the tight hip flexors and then another line from the weak abdominals to the weak hamstrings and glutes, the two lines would form a cross shape. The muscles that are often tight are:  Trunk extensors called the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. Hip flexors, in particular the iliopsoas muscle. These muscles require stretching. The muscles that are often weak and stretched are: Abdominal muscles called the rectus abdominus, internal oblique and external oblique muscles. Hip extensors or hamstrings and gluteus maximus. – Sportsinjuryclinic.net

Muscular Imbalance Associated with Flattened Low Back

Chronically tense hamstrings contribute to the backward tilt of the pelvis which contributes to the flattening out of the normal low back curve… While in general, it is good for your back to have strong abdominals, it can become excessive and imbalanced when you have flat low back posture… To address flat low back posture, stretching and strengthening exercises are used. Perhaps the best strategy is to use exercise to reverse the pattern of muscle imbalance that keeps the flat low back in place. Hamstring and ab stretches are key in this process. The National Health Service in the U.K. recommends… exercises to strengthen core, buttocks, back, neck, and rear shoulder muscles. – Anne Asher

Pelvic Alignment Issues

Constantly Tucking Pelvis

The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet… A tucked pelvis is necessary for a ballerina to perform her craft, but it is a decidedly unnatural movement to do all the time. Large numbers of ballet dancers end their careers with arthritic hips and sciatica due to this overemphasis on a tucked pelvis… Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. – Paul Grilley

Rib Shear & Anterior Pelvic Tilt

You may have noticed that a lot of people who practice yoga have… lost their thoracic curve, and they stand with a rib flare and an anterior (forward) pelvic tilt. Typically with this type of posture, the spinal extensors are overworking and hypertonic, while the spinal flexors are underutilized and weak. When we have this particular muscular imbalance, we tend to experience muscle spasms at the TL junction, as well as neck and low back pain, because these areas of the body are being compressed. That compression manifests as hyperextension at the TL junction or low back, which is further exacerbated in extension poses, such as cobra, upward facing dog, and wheel. – Trina Altman

Arched Low Back & Tucked Pelvis

I have a tendency to overarch my lower back. Growing up, my dance teachers constantly reminded me to “tuck your pelvis.” I tucked as hard as I could, but it never seemed to help. That’s probably, at least in part, because the over-arching was happening in the upper part of my lower back, so adjusting at the level of my pelvis didn’t make much difference. (Yes, it is entirely possible to have both an excessively arched lower back and a pelvis that is excessively tucked under… I highly recommend checking out this 2014 blog post by Jenni Rawlings, which explains a lot more about the biomechanics.) – Kat Heagberg


Disc Dehydration

As we age, the composition of our discs changes (they become more fibrous) and they become progressively more and more dehydrated. “A less hydrated, more fibrous nucleus pulposus [the inner core of the vertebral disc] is unable to evenly distribute compressive forces between the vertebral bodies. The forces are instead transferred non-uniformly to the surrounding…[outer protective layer]” which can lead to progressive structural deterioration, disk herniation and pain. So it is pretty obvious that we want to keep our intervertebral discs hydrated and our spines aligned to minimize the stress that is being placed on the discs. – Olga Kabel


Winging Shoulder Blades

In winging of the shoulder blades, the scapulas do not lie smoothly against the posterior rib cage… When standing with your back to the wall, the shoulders will be forward and only a small portion of the inner shoulder blades will touch the wall. The rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles will tend to be weakened… This condition often restricts full respiration in the chest and increases abdominal breathing. – Mukunda Stiles

The Consequences of Misalignment or Lack of Stability

The mobility of the trunk is due to the flexibility of the vertebral column, which has twenty-six “levels” of articulation. On the other hand, the vertebral column contains a tunnel for the nerves: the spinal cord and the nerve roots, which exit the spinal cord. Weakness in the vertebrae may therefore affect not only the joints, but also the spinal cord and nerves as well. Thus, the trunk must be able to align and stabilize the vertebral segments when the body is motionless, and especially when it is carrying a load. – Blandine Calais-Germain