Deep Dive Into the Human Spine

by: Alicia Oberholzer PT, DPT, OCS (Warm Springs Holistic Health)

The human spine is composed of 24 bones known as vertebrae. The spine is divided into three sections called the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (upper to middle back), and lumbar spine (lower back). At the base of the lumbar spine, there are two sections of fused bones referred to as the sacrum and the coccyx (tail bone).

The spine has several important functions. It helps to hold the body upright, support movement, and protect the spinal cord and nerves.

Fun Facts about the spine:

  • The uppermost vertebrae in the cervical spine (C1) is commonly referred to as the “atlas.” This is based on the Greek mythology character, Atlas. He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, similar to how the neck supports the weight of the head.

  • Humans and long neck giraffes both have exactly 7 cervical vertebrae.

  • The spine of a newborn fetus begins to develop at about 2 months after conception.

  • The human spine has over 120 muscles, allowing for strength and flexibility.

  • Over ¼ of the height of the spine is made up of cartilage. Cartilage is the connective tissue that provides cushion and allows for smooth movement between vertebrae.

Try this exercise to get some movement through your spine:

Cat Cow

  1. Position yourself on a mat on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders and your knees about hip width apart.

  2. Start with your spine in a neutral position. This means that it is relatively flat without excessive arching or sagging.

  3. For the cat phase, slowly exhale as you activate your abdominal muscles. Push your back up towards the ceiling while your chin tucks slightly downward. Hold this position for about 5 seconds. This exercise is meant to be pain free, so only go as far as feels comfortable.

  4. Slowly relax back to a neutral, or flat spine position.

  5. For the cow phase, you will be moving in the opposite direction. Gently inhale and relax your spine. Allow gravity to assist as you slowly let your stomach fall downwards towards the ground. Your shoulder blades should come together as you lift your head towards the sky. Just as with the previous movement, only allow for as much motion as is comfortable.

  6. Repeat this transition back and forth for 20 repetitions. Don’t forget to coordinate your breath with each movement. This part may take practice!

If you have additional questions about the spine, please contact the Physical Therapy Team at Warm Springs Holistic Health for more information. We are accepting new patients for both in person and telehealth appointments on a referral only basis.

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