Celebrating the Gifts of the Spine
Sep 30, 2013 10:39PM
● By Dr. Allison Lapp and Dr. Matthew Lapp
Most Pennsylvanians take advantage of September’s fabulous weather by becoming more active. Because the spine is the foundation for almost all activity, the single biggest physical stress on the spine comes from the use of the arms and legs. Therefore, understanding the relationship between spinal health and overall quality of life might be more essential than it first appears. We should recognize the vital gifts that our spinal structures have to offer. We can start by asking ourselves, “What level of function do I want for my body and my life? Is the goal mere survival, or would I prefer to flourish?”
The first gift of the spine is function. Because almost all physical movements are generated by the spinal structures, it’s imperative to make sure that all of the components of the spine, including the muscles, bones, ligaments, discs and the neural control system are functioning optimally. Many studies support this notion. A 2003 study performed at Akita University, in Japan, and published in the journal Osteoporosis International, found that spinal range of motion had the highest correlation with quality of life when compared against factors that include spinal fractures and spinal angles. Furthermore, the researchers noted that spinal mobility has a great influence on overall quality of life. Other studies, such as research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2004, find that individuals with higher functioning spinal health report increased feelings of joy and happiness. Those with healthier spines also appear to have a lower risk of falls and lower rates of mortality, according to a prospective study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society in 2004.
Another gift of the spine is our ability to experience, convey and even change mood, emotion and demeanor. Standing up straight with the shoulders back and the spine in alignment has the ability to create an appearance of inner strength and happiness. Researcher Amy Cuddy, a Harvard professor of business, found that standing tall and big by stretching out arms and legs even for just two minutes before giving a presentation increased test subjects’ feelings of power and their tolerance of low risk, helping them come across as more enthusiastic, competent, confident and captivating. The opposite is true of slouching; it not only reflects negative emotions such as sadness or depression, but may also help create those feelings. This suggests that changing our posture may have an effect on our whole demeanor. We can test this concept by trying to slump forward with shoulders rounded toward the chest when we are in a blissful moment; it feels awkward and may even seem impossible.
These ideas can be applied to our sense of self. The stories we tell ourselves and internalize, as well as the life events we experience, can affect the physiology of the body, how we interact with those around us, how we view ourselves and the actions and behaviors in which we engage. The chiropractic tradition believes that the spinal cord is the literal extension of the brain and mind. Therefore, whether joyous or painful, a life event can be stored in the mind and transferred to the spinal structures.
Just as our inner story is largely generated by the implications and meaning that we give to our experiences, our behavior is an external representation of the story. If we appreciate how all of these parts of the self are interrelated, we can create behaviors that work for, instead of against, us simply by changing the structure, alignment and posture of our bodies.
The most subtle gift of the spine is an awareness that can start with the physical and take us to much deeper aspects of our lives. By paying attention to our bodies, we are able to develop a greater sense of internal awareness. By paying attention to our emotions, we become more in touch with them. By paying attention to the wonder that is all around us, we become spiritually enlightened.
As is the case with any new activity or skill, taking time to develop it is vital, because lasting change doesn’t occur overnight. If spinal health and fitness is a new concept, making gradual changes is the most effective way to celebrate the gifts that the spine has to offer.
Allison and Matthew Lapp are chiropractic doctors and the owners of Be Well Lancaster, located at 7 North Mulberry St., in Lancaster. For more information, call 717-205-2303 or visit BeWellLancaster.com.