Why Does Your Spinal Alignment Matter?

Having a spine that is properly aligned is critical for maintaining a healthy nervous system which allows the body to function at an optimal level.

Could you start by explaining what it means to have your spine aligned?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Essentially your spine is designed structurally to be within certain limits. So, if someone says, “Is your spine aligned?”, they are indicating that, is your alignment of your spine, is the structure within the spine, in alignment of those normal limits? Obviously, it is paramount that based on biomechanical analysis we’ll be able to tell you if your spine is within those normal limits or if they’re outside of those normal limits.

If you’re outside the normal limits, then your spine is not aligned and if you’re in those normal limits, your spine is aligned. Obviously, alignment of your spine is paramount, because the alignment of your spine dictates the load, pressure you put into a joint, tissue essentially the nerve. And obviously as we know, the nervous system is essential, controls everything we do, feeling and functions. So, if I have an aligned spine, good biomechanical function, no pressure on the nervous system, we should be able to function optimally.

What is the best way for someone to check if their spine is aligned?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, a great question. Go see a chiropractor, but specifically a chiropractor that takes x-rays. Because to see is to know, and obviously a chiropractor worth their salt will know the parameters that the spine’s supposed to be within. A chiropractor should be able to shoot a set of full spinal films in the front and the side, and then analyze those films to check that your spine is within alignment. If it’s not in alignment, then obviously that’s an issue that should be addressed, because spines out of alignment over time degenerate quicker than spines that are in alignment. The degeneration is pain and dysfunction and something that we want to be putting off for as long as we can.

Does your spinal alignment affect your body development and your overall body movement?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Your spinal alignment essentially dictates pretty much everything that goes on within the spine, and over 80% of your extremities, both the tissue and the joints anchor into your spine. You have two types of your skeletal system. You’ve got your axial spine, which is your physical spine, neck, upper to mid back, low back, sacrum, your tailbone, and your pelvis. And you’ve got your appendicular spine, which is everything else, shoulder joints, elbow joints, hips, and knees.

In order for your appendicular spine, or extremities, to be in alignment and moving well, your actual spine has to be in alignment. So, if we have big shifts within the spine, this can have a knock-on effect for how a certain joint is going to move. For example, in discussing your lower back and your pelvis, you have a 40-degree curve in our lower back and somebody who’s got a 60-degree curve has got a 50% increase, well, that’s going to start to transfer weight disproportionately into the tailbone and the hips, which can create subluxations, it’s a misalignment in the tailbone and the hips.

Now imagine going for a run with your tailbone and your hips out of alignment. Well, that’s going to create a compensatory issue. Muscles are going to have to work harder for joints that are out of alignment, and it’s going to essentially affect how the hip, possibly the knee, the foot, and ankle are being loaded. So, when you are putting repetitive stress into those joints and they’re not moving well, this is going to break down the joint and the tissues, you’re just going to have a cascading effect.

So essentially, spinal alignment is critically important. But that’s just discussing function. Remember, your spine houses your nervous system, and the nervous system controls everything we do. 15% percent of your nervous system is sensory, so it emits pain. 85% of your nervous system is asensory, so it’s function.

So, let’s imagine, we have a 42-degree curve in our neck, and we have zero curve due to being rear-ended five years ago. Well, as we discussed in our previous podcast, it’s going to create stress and tension to the joint, it’s going to affect the discs. But remember that increased pressure to the nerve. So, if a nerve is under pressure, that part of the nerve that’s sensory may give you neck pain, but 85% of that nerve within the neck for example, partially innervates the thyroid. Thyroid innervates sleep, mood, energy levels, and metabolism. So obviously, if the nerves that innervate the thyroid, or at least partially innervate the thyroid, are under tension from poor alignment, then we can also have those lifestyle diseases that we see a lot within our corporate athletes here. Poor sleep, poor mood, poor energy levels, poor metabolism. So, your alignment is critical and paramount for how we feel, but also how we function.

Along those lines, how does your spinal alignment affect your immune system and your overall wellness?

Dr. Luke Stringer: I think we touched on that a little bit in our last question. Let’s talk about overall wellness, to begin with. So, alignment is critically important for what we just discussed because it dictates what goes on with the joints and the tissue. Now let’s imagine we’re out of alignment, and we’ll use our neck for example. You should have the top bone in your neck meet the bottom bone, it roughly should have a 42-degree curve and obviously that’s good alignment, it ties the weight of the head evenly into the joints and the tissue. But now as you imagine, the top bone has shifted two inches in front of your bottom bone, and then we’ve lost 50% of that neck curve. Well, new research is coming out that the curve in your neck directly correlates to how well your spinal cord functions in terms of the synapse. So, let’s imagine you’re a professional footballer, you’re a wide receiver, and you have that visual stimulus, and your neck’s out of alignment. You’re going to process that (this is clinically researched, just coming out, just got reviewed in the Nature Journal, which is really cool) stimulus slower than someone who has a spine that’s in alignment. So obviously that’s going to affect performance.

Also, when we’re out of alignment, in terms of our spinal alignment, it puts us in a chronic state of stress. When we’re chronically stressed, it can increase cortisol production within the body that blocks hormone reception, increases our blood sugar, because we can’t absorb the blood sugar, so then essentially our homeostatic state is not in sync. Then that’s when we lead to those lifestyle diseases, which essentially is our overall wellness, poor sleep, mood, energy levels, and metabolism. So, alignment of your spine can affect a myriad of things, but how we feel and how we function, absolutely.

What are some other important reasons people should get their spinal alignment corrected?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yes. Spinal alignment’s critically important for how we feel and function, but also how we age, right? Imagine we’re out of alignment, we’re asymptomatic, we don’t feel anything, we feel like we’re moving and we’re functioning well. However, in 5, 10, 15 years down the road, if that hasn’t been addressed, then the chance for pain greatly increases, due to the biomechanical stress and tension we’ve got to the joint and the tissue. So, I feel that the younger we are, the less time, energy, and effort we’re going to have to spend on correcting something, compared to the older we are when eventually it will break down. Obviously the older we are, the more degeneration we have, lack of tissue health, less mobility, less recovery time.

I feel that having your spinal alignment checked now is paramount for how we feel and function today, but also is going to make sure that we age naturally instead of through an accelerated process, through degenerative changes, issues in the discs, compensatory patterns within the joint, et cetera, et cetera.

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If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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