YOUR CERVICAL SPINE EXPLAINED
Your cervical spine (c-spine) is classified as your top seven vertebrae (or more commonly, your neck). Here at Inner West Health Clinic, we think the cervical spine is pretty important. Not only does it house the delicate spinal cord, which sends messages from your brain to your body (and back again), and important arteries that provide blood flow to the brain, but it is also strong and flexible, allowing movement in all directions.
It has a lordotic curve, which means the spine curves into the body, before curving back out again through the thoracic spine (upper to middle back), and then curving back in again (lordotic curve), in the lumber spine (lower back). These curves are important as it helps us evenly distribute force through our spine, while helping us move, twist and bend. When one of our curves start to change or move, or if we experience some kind of damage or injury, it can set off a chain of events in our body – literally from head to toe!
Given the cervical spine’s important function in the body of holding the head centred and straight, it gets a lot of trauma. Not just severe trauma like from car accidents or injuries (a blog for another time), but daily trauma, which just about everyone experiences.
“So what is this daily trauma that I’m giving myself?” you ask. It’s a multitude of activities but sitting or standing with bad posture is a very common one. Do you:
- work at a desk?
- drive a car?
- use public transport?
- sit on the couch and watch TV?
- use your mobile phone, tablet or laptop?
- hold a baby in your arms, or feed a baby regularly?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’re likely to be experiencing trauma to your c-spine, which could result in:
- forward head placement, putting extra strain through your spine and other parts of your body
- eventual disc irritation, bulges or herniation
- headaches, including migraines
- nerve tingling or pain
- referral pain to other parts of your body such as the shoulder
- potential to progress into more severe or chronic issues.
To give you an idea of how trauma is caused, the human head weighs about 4.5-5.5kg. When it flexes forward 15 degrees, the force through the spine grows to about 12kg. At 30 degrees, it’s 18kg, and at 45 degrees flexion, our spine sees about 22kg. To deal with that, the spine and muscles around it start adapting, setting of that chain…
How do I prevent further trauma?
- Notice your posture: Try to keep your shoulders back and your head above your shoulders. You can do some simple exercises like chin tucks. Basically, dance like you’re an Egyptian and retract your head backwards, so it’s sitting above your neck. Try not to give yourself too much of a double chin (don’t tilt your head down). Also try some stretches that open up your chest and elongate your neck.
- Shoulder retraction: Roll your shoulders back and down, then pull your shoulder blades together, like someone has put tape from one blade to the other. While doing this, make sure your core is engaged, by drawing your belly button into your spine – try to keep a natural curve in your back.
- Check your workstation: You should be sitting with your elbows at right angles or just wider, your knees should be level with your hips, or slightly lower – prop your feet up onto a foot rest if you need. The top of your screen should be at eye level. Check out our graphic for more information.
- Take regular breaks when sitting: Simply stand up, do a couple of stretches or go for a quick walk. If your workplace has standing or walking desks available, use them regularly.
- Parents with babies: Be conscious of your posture. Try to relax your shoulders and use a pillow or support when feeding or holding bub for extended periods of time. If you have a baby that loves long cuddles, try baby-wearing (chest to chest) using a well-fitted carrier, rather than holding.
- Visit your Inner West Health Osteo for a posture check and regular maintenance treatments. Your practitioner will be able to see where your imbalances are, find out what is causing your pain if you have any, and work through a plan to meet your goals.
Your cervical spine is important, so make sure you look after it! Think about your posture, get your Egyptian dance perfected and show off those beautiful (spinal) curves.
2. Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head: https://motamem.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/spine-study.pdf