For individuals trying to maintain a healthy spine, can understanding the causes and prevention of rotated vertebrae help protect the spine from harmful rotation of vertebrae?
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Healthy spine rotation is an important aspect of injury prevention, and rotated vertebrae or a twisted spine can result from spine, nerve, or muscle disease or certain movements.
Normal Spine Twisting Capability
The spine can move in several ways. Spine movements include:
- Bending – Rounding forward
- Extending – Arching backward
- Tilting sideways is powered by muscles that aid in twisting.
Although the spine can move in many directions, there are limits to how far it can and should go. (Xinhai Shan et al., 2013). This is especially true with twisting. The spinal column is made of 26 interconnected bones called vertebrae. When moving, each vertebrae bone moves accordingly. Rotated or twisted vertebrae, especially when bending forward like lifting heavy objects, are associated with a risk of back injuries like strain and herniated discs.
How Rotation Works
Rotation is a basic movement in which individuals can turn their spinal column. When twisting, the spine also bends to the side. The muscles involved in spine rotation include:
- The internal oblique abdominals and the external oblique abdominals don’t directly attach to the spine but are the primary muscles responsible for powering spinal rotation in the lower back.
- Intrinsic muscles, including the multifidus and longissimus, contribute to twisting movement as well.
- The multifidus helps the spine twist when one side is contracted/activated and extends the lumbar spine when both sides contract.
- The multifidus helps control the movement, and the longissimus provides the movement with some extension.
Age and The Spine
As individuals age, the body accumulates tension and/or weakness in the oblique abdominal and other trunk muscles. Sedentary habits primarily bring on these changes. (Pooriput Waongenngarm et al., 2016)
- Chronically tight back and abdominal muscles impair the range of motion of the trunk, as well as twisting ability.
- Muscle weakness and tightness affect spinal movements.
- Weakened muscles can decrease support for spinal movement and decrease overall trunk stability.
Spinal Rotation and Scoliosis
Scoliosis is a common condition that causes a lateral curve of the spine. Some of the vertebrae become displaced to the side. Often, abnormal vertebral rotation underlies this displacement. Treatment often focuses on controlling vertebral rotation with medical guidance and physical therapy. (John P. Horne et al., 2014)
Over-Rotating The Spine
Many individuals over-rotate their spines with manual work, which can increase the risk of back injuries. (National Institutes of Health. 2020). Over-rotation can happen with activities like digging or shoveling.
Exercise For A Healthy Spine
A recommended way to achieve optimal rotation of the spine is with daily back exercises. (National Spine Health Foundation. 2015). An effective back exercise program will consist of movements in every direction.
- Yoga is recommended because it places emphasis on developing flexibility and strength in all directions.
- Pilates does the same.
- An injury prevention exercise program will work the hip and pelvic muscles as well.
- Individuals with a spine condition should consult their healthcare provider or physical therapist about how to exercise the spine safely, as rotation exercises could worsen back problems like bulging or herniated discs.
Core Strength For A Pain-Free Back
Shan, X., Ning, X., Chen, Z., Ding, M., Shi, W., & Yang, S. (2013). Low back pain development response to sustained trunk axial twisting. European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 22(9), 1972–1978. doi.org/10.1007/s00586-013-2784-7
Waongenngarm, P., Rajaratnam, B. S., & Janwantanakul, P. (2016). Internal Oblique and Transversus Abdominis Muscle Fatigue Induced by Slumped Sitting Posture after 1 Hour of Sitting in Office Workers. Safety and health at work, 7(1), 49–54. doi.org/10.1016/j.shaw.2015.08.001
Horne, J. P., Flannery, R., & Usman, S. (2014). Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: diagnosis and management. American family physician, 89(3), 193–198.
National Institutes of Health. (2020). Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.
National Spine Health Foundation. (2015). Breaking Down The Exercises That Break Down Your Spine.
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