Do You Know How To Measure A Healthy Spine?

Why is healthy spinal alignment important and how can you measure it? Below we’ll briefly address this topic.

HEALTHY SPINAL ALIGNMENT FROM FRONT TO BACK

When your spine is aligned correctly, it will be straight up and down from front to back without any rotation of the individual bones. Unwanted curvature to the side is called “Scoliosis.” Because of the severe pressure on the nervous system and organs, an excessive degree of scoliosis is considered a medical emergency.  Therefore, any curves to the side here are unhealthy. People with scoliosis have been shown to experience up to a 14 year reduction in life expectancy [(Idiopathic Scoliosis: long-term follow-up & prognosis in untreated patients, J Bone Joint Surg Am 1981 Jun;63(5):702-12)].
 
FROM THE SIDE

Evaluating the spine from the side, there must be three distinct curves in the neck (cervical), mid-back (thoracic), and low back (lumbar-pelvic). 

Of particular importance is the curve in the neck (It should look like a curve in a banana).   Since life comes from the brain down this curve to the rest of the body, it’s often called the “Arc of life.”   Losing the curve in the neck causes the vertebrae to stretch the cord like a rubber band and shrink its circumference dramatically.[1. Dynamic studies of cervical spinal canal and spinal cord by magnetic resonance imaging. Koshered F, Jensen H Terwey B. Acta Radiol Suppl. 1986;369:727-9 Department of Rad., Univ. of Kiel, Oldenburg, West Germany)] This creates pathological tension as these stretched nerves and the shrunken spinal cord lose their conductivity—the ability to carry the nerve impulses to and from the brain.[2. Alf Breig. “Skull Traction and Cervical Cord Injury.” Springer-Verlag, New York, 1989. (Ref 20, 35, 42, 46). 

Biomechanical aspects of the cervical cord: effects of postural changes in healthy volunteers using positional magnetic resonance imaging. Kuwazawa Y, Bashir W, Pope MH, Takahashi K, Smith FW. J Spinal Disord Tech. 2006 Jul;19(5):348-52.

Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Liberty Safe Work Research Centre, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK. Muhle C, Wiskirchen J, Weiner D, Falliner A, Wesner F, Brinkmann G, Heller M.Spine. 1998 Mar 1;23(5):556-67 Department of Diagnostic Radiology, Christian-Albrechts University Kiel, Germany]

This stretching can lead to deterioration of the cord and nerves themselves and cause both moderate and severe neurological symptoms as well as diseases of the nervous system.[3. Alf Breig. “Skull Traction and Cervical Cord Injury.” Springer-Verlag, New York, 1989. (Ref 20, 35, 42, 46).

Neurosurgery. 2005 May;56(5):1101-13, Henderson FC.

Pathophysiology and treatment for Cervical Flexion Myelopathy. Fujimoto Y, Oka S, Tanaka N, Nishikawa K, Kawagoe H, Baba I. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Hiroshima University School of Medicine, Kasumi 1-2-3, Minami-ku, Hiroshima, 734-8551 Japan. skydog@hiroshima-u.ac.jp.

Spine. 30(21):2388-2392, November 1, 2005.Shimizu, Kentaro MD *; Nakamura, Masaya MD *; Nishikawa, Yuji MD +;Hijikata, Sadahisa MD +; Chiba, Kazuhiro MD *; Toyama, Yoshiaki MD]

Unfortunately, if you’ve had trauma, there is a 98% chance you will have lost all or part of the curve in your neck.[4. “The Use of Flexion and Extension MRI in the Evaluation of Cervical Spine Trauma: Initial Experience in 100 Trauma Patients Compared with 100 Normal Subjects”Giuliano et al, Emergency Radiology (October 2002) 9: 249-253]