STEP 1: Understand the Neutral Back Position
A healthy spine as three natural curves:
The neck, or cervical spine, curves slightly inward
The mid back, or thoracic spine, is curved outward
The low back, or lumbar spine, curves inward
These natural curves are the result of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that attach to the vertebrae of the spine working together in harmony. Without these supporting structures, the spine would collapse. They support the spine just as guide wires support the mast of a ship.
In your spine, the guide wire system is made up mainly of the abdominal and back muscles. The abdominal muscles provide support by attaching to the ribs, pelvis, and indirectly to the lumbar spine. The muscles of the back are arranged in layers, with each layer playing an important role in balancing the spine. By using these muscles together, you can change the curves of your spine, like when you bend over to pick something up.
Neutral alignment keeps the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that attach to your spine working together in harmony. This is important to help cushion your spine from too much stress and strain. Learning how to maintain a neutral spine position can help you avoid problems with your spine, and help you move safely during activities like sitting, walking, and lifting.
Controlling the tilt of your pelvis is one way to help balance your spine. As certain muscles of the back and abdomen contract, the pelvis rotates. As the pelvis rotates forward, the lumbar curve increases. As the pelvis rotates backward, the curve of the low back straightens. Rotation of the pelvis is like a wheel centered at the hip joint. The muscles of the upper thighs also attach to the pelvis and contraction of these muscles can be used to change the curve of the spine.
The abdominal muscles work alone or with the hamstring muscles to rotate your pelvis backward. This causes the slight inward curve of the low back to straighten. If these muscles cause the curve of the low back to straighten too much, this may produce an unhealthy slouching posture.
In the other direction, the hip flexor and back extensor muscles rotate the pelvis forward. This increases the curve of your lower back. If this curve is increased too much, another unhealthy posture may result.
A balance of strength and flexibility is the key to maintaining the neutral spine position. This balance ensures the best muscle function. Like a car, an imbalance may lead to wear and tear, eventually damaging the various parts of the car.
Muscle imbalances that affect the spine have many causes. One common cause of muscle imbalance is weak abdominal muscles. As the abdominal muscles sag, the hip flexors become tight, causing an increase in the curve of the low back. Another common problem results from tight hamstrings. As the hamstring muscles become tight, the pelvis is rotated backwards. This produces an abnormal slouching posture.