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The average spine has 33 individual vertebrae, held together by over 120 muscles that connect 100 joints. 
 
The spine has a huge number of functions that it must perform 24/7 in order for us to move our bodies freely. Generally, our spines do a pretty good job of working how they should, however, sometimes things go wrong, and you may not find your body working in the ways it should. Often, we feel ‘locked up’ and our mobility is restricted. Today we’re going to explore what causes this feeling and ways in which you can help yourself at home. 
 

What Does the Spine Really Do? 

The spine is designed to assist in neck, torso, and pelvic movements by connecting the lower limbs to the upper. This allows all forces from the legs to be dissipated and transferred throughout the spine when we perform activities such as walking and running. 
 
The spine also protects the fragile spinal cord which connects the brain to the lower body. This bundle of nerves is caged at the back of the spine between the spongey disc and the joints, with each pair of nerves travelling out along its length to supply the skin and muscles so we can feel and move. The joints in your spine also allow movements such as forward bending, backward bending, side bending and rotation. These joints are called facet joints. 

What Happens When Things Go Wrong? 

Your spine is constantly at work throughout the day; when you sit at work, roll over in bed, drive home, eat, cook, shower, and walk. It’s very common for something that works all the time to become dysfunctional at some point, especially when neglected or asked to do too much. 
 
Facet joint locking is caused when the surface of the joints in your back become stuck together or ‘locked’ and move sub-optimally. This can cause a reduction in range of movement, giving you the feeling of localised stiffness. 
 
The longer the joint surfaces are locked together, muscles surrounding them can begin to spasm to protect the area causing tightness. This is turn can trigger or push upon nearby nerve endings resulting in increased sensitivity and pain. 

How Can I Reduce My Stiffness? 

If your pain or stiffness is caused through the facet joints in your back locking up, then sedentary behaviours such as prolonged sitting, driving and heavy impact activities can aggravate your symptoms. On the flip side, forward bending and rotating may help to relieve your symptoms as the joint surfaces pull away from each other and open or ‘gap’. 
 
This can include letting your legs rotate from side to side, reaching over your shoulder on your chair or twisting your neck to take your chin towards the other shoulder. One way to mitigate excessive long-term soreness, stiffness and to promote healing is to encourage daily spinal movement. This can be achieved through a gentle stroll, floor mobilisations, or even going for a gentle swim using strokes such as front/back crawl. 
 
To optimise these results for long term relief, postural assessment and regular soft tissue mobilisation such as sports massage can help identify areas of improvement and aid in improving your symptoms by reducing muscular tightness from pulling on spinal joints. The more you can keep moving and active throughout the day within your limits, the greater the increase in blood flow to tissues which aids in the removal of inflammation, reduced muscular spasm and reduced pain sensitivity. 
 
To book a postural assessment or sports massage with your local Fire & Earth therapist, click HERE. 
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