There are five common causes of spinal dysfunction:
Being in a poor position for the spine for a prolonged period, insufficient movement or exercise, stress, variation in the shape of the vertebrae, and poor lifting posture.
- Being in a poor position for the spine for a prolonged period: This is the most common cause of spinal dysfunction. There are sliding joints between all the vertebrae of the spine. When you are in a neutral, straight position, these sliding joints sit of each other properly. When you are in a poor position—bent forward or back to much, bent to the side, or twisted—the joints don’t sit on each other as well and are much more likely to get jammed in that position. The worse the position, and the longer you are in a poor position, the more likely the spinal joints are to get stuck.
The most common cause of lower back restriction is prolonged sitting, especially if your backside is not right back up against the backrest to prop you up and keep you very upright. Soft couches, sitting in bed, and slouching at your desk are responsible for many low back issues.
In the neck there are two very common positions that cause spinal problems.
1. Spending long periods of time with your head forward. eg. Bent in front of the computer, reading, sleeping with your head forward, looking down for longer periods to use your mobile phone. It causes the joints at the base of the neck to get jammed and causes subluxation, and tension/pain at the base of your neck and across your shoulders.
2. Sleeping with your head tilted, or twisted, to one side.
- Insufficient movement or exercise: The spine loves movement. It is like a door or car—the more you move it the less likely it is to get rusty and restricted inside. However, if you have a very sedentary lifestyle, sitting all day in front of a computer for example, and you don’t move and exercise your body, the joints can seize up. What is good movement? Light, repetitive movement with no jarring—cardiovascular exercise. Cross-trainers, walking quickly with your arms swinging, swimming, and step machines are all good. If you sit at a desk all day, get up and walk around when you can (eg. When are on the phone)
- Stress: Stress tightens up the muscles in the upper back and neck, holding the area rigid. This leads to restricted joints in the spine, which are more likely to get stuck. To reduce the effects of stress, roll your shoulders, stretch your neck from side to side, and do cardiovascular exercise after stress to loosen yourself back up again.
- Variation in the shape of the vertebrae: Sometimes vertebrae grow with an unusual shape. They can fuse together congenitally from birth, or grow with a twist over time (eg. scoliosis). This will predispose you to problems. You can’t change the shape of asymmetrical vertebrae, but you can loosen them regularly to minimise the effect of their poor shape.
- Poor lifting posture: Lifting using poor position can cause significant problems to the joints and the disc. Make sure that you bend with your knees, not your back, and don’t twist when you are bending. At gym, deadlifts and barbell squats cause a lot of problems, so if you want to do these, you need to be very careful with your technique.