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12 Things You Need to Know to Be Healthy #4

Your Spine is Your Suit of Armor.


We’ve already learned your nervous system is the thing that expresses life for you. It’s the pathway for Innate Intelligence expressing so you can adapt to your environment. 


The spine’s role is it is a great protector of the nervous system.  Most of the nervous system lives in a bony box, your head.  The projection of nerves out of it make up the spinal cord.  If all of the nerve pathway was in a bony box we wouldn’t be able to move.  So, those projections required some sort of moveable system that still has the strongest protection, like bone. 


The spine is a moveable tube.  Like a gooseneck mic stand.   The interior has holes through which the spinal cord passes from one level down to the next and to the next, all the way to the tailbone.  It’s amazingly brilliant.  The design includes the whole front two thirds call the vertebral body which carries the weight of the frame of your body.  All the muscles, guts…etc… is carried on the vertebral bodies and their nice little cushions, the discs.  The disc is some tough material but allows for the vertebra to move.  Flex, extend and rotate.  Each one about 8 degrees or so.  If you count up all 7 in your neck, you have 7 times 8 degrees of flexion.  Or, 56 degrees or so.   Same for your low back. 


The ones in your middle back are less for motion and more for supporting the critical organs in your chest, your heart and lungs.  Though they move, it’s the ribs that are the highlight here.  They move up and down, hinged at your spine and in the front at the sternum or breast bone.  They go up and down when you breath like fish gills. 


The back of the vertebra where the spinal cord passes through is where it gets interesting.  So, the spinal cord DOES pass from top to bottom through the giant canal in the vertebra.  But, what good is that until a nerve can get out of there and DO something?   So, individual branches of the spinal cord “peel off” at each level and exit the spine through small holes called foramen (four A men).  


In the spinal cord there is little to no insulation of the nerves traveling up and down inside the spine.  As the nerve leaves the spinal cord, a larger myelin sheath covers it which acts to insulate it from irritation as it passes through tissues of muscle and ligaments etc… to get where it’s going.  That insulation changes the required pressure to alter the nerve signal.   You may recall in the #3 of 12 things, I told you that it only required 3mm of mercury kind of pressure to diminish the amplitude of a nerve impulse 60%.  That isn’t true once it’s covered in myelin.  Now you get to have way more pressure before the nerve is impacted.  Like that you experience when you hit your “funny bone” in your elbow.  You gotta whack it.   Or chronic high pressure in the wrist like carpal tunnel syndrome.

So, the most sensitive area for nerve interference remains at the spine and spinal cord.  Misalignment, degeneration, arthritis, bone spurs, disc bulges, herniations, dehydration, scoliosis, forward head posture, loss of curve in the neck or low back, too much curve…. All of these impact the very sensitive spinal cord trying to send signals around your body. 


You mostly don’t feel this because the spinal cord when you look at it in cross section, has the nerves traveling from head to the body in the FRONT of the cord and from the body back to the head in the BACK of the cord.   It’s only the back of the cord that sends the pain signals to the head so you know it.  Since the disc and all those conditions I listed in the previous paragraph impact the FRONT of the cord, it damages the signals from the head to the body.  So, the body can’t respond and adapt because the signals are interfered with.   Maybe to a degree, but not 100%.    Some examples include colic, heartburn, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, weak muscle tone, immune impairment etc…


When you FEEL something isn’t right, that’s traveling up the farthest back element of the spinal cord. There’s not much to impact that until you have facet arthritis or disc damage so bad it pushes the whole cord back and the back fibers get hit too. 


Why would this intelligent design do it that way?  Why not have the sensory on the front so you know about it sooner.  Why motor (from brain to body) on the front and sensory (body to brain) on the back?  


Well it turns out, the sensory for pain is mostly concerned with motion.  Your joints and muscles.  You HAVE sensory on your hollow organs like intestine, gall bladder, bladder… but solid organs do not have them.  Those have feedback mechanisms too but not as rich as your fingertips, muscles or joints.  


Your brain uses the sensory information going UP the spinal cord, to figure out the amount of nervous system stimulation coming back DOWN the spinal cord.  This is happening all the time, sensing and responding, to keep you from falling out of the chair, or move you.  You can jump and run, you can knit or play piano if you want.  You aren’t banging out Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll every time you touch the piano.  You can play Color My World very softly or bang out Elton John licks…. All controlled by your nervous system playing out over joints muscles, hearing, vision and you can feel it.


The amount of information being passed around is comparable to a supercomputer that the world hasn’t invented yet.  It’s too much information that technology hasn’t been able to emulate. 


Here’s a weird fact: Of all the information going up your spinal cord, half comes from the joint receptors on the spine itself.  HALF!   The rest of your body runs on the other half available?  Yes.     Why so much bandwidth dedicated to these joint receptors?   Because the spine must remain fluid and moving to create flow of cerebral spinal fluid for the spinal cord.  That’s how the nerve cells of the cord get their nutrition and waste products removed.   The brain needs a lot of input to run these levels and keep them working and moving properly. 


This is why learning new skills or tasks is better done moving.  That integrates the process into the nervous system and brain.  Cross crawl technique of movement for brain injuries has been shown to integrate the left and right hemispheres because of this.


The structure of the spine is also amazing.  The spine develops 3 primary curves after learning to walk as a toddler.  Those curves make it stronger and give it resilience.  If it were straight up and down, the discs would be damaged and joints would deteriorate right away.  The curves make it 16 times stronger (there’s 4 curves technically) .   The angles of these curves create 30-60-90 structured triangles of weight bearing.  If you’ve had geometry, you know two of those next to each other are the strongest isosceles triangles.  When you look at an upper back from behind, that’s the structure out to the shoulders. 


The curves (looking from the side) give it some spring and maintain the correct length for the spinal cord.  Losing those curves from whiplash type injuries stretches the spinal cord, creating tension and abnormal nerve signals.  Those signals just go where the nerve goes and it has the same effect as had the brain sent them.  So, people get muscle knots and spasms from that.  It’s not the muscles, it’s the nerves.  In addition, those nerves go everywhere.  So, when you lose the normal neck curve, EVERYTHING is affected.  Digestion, heart rate, immune system and more.   And because it usually pokes the head forward of the body, the righting mechanism that keeps your head level exerts pressure on the brainstem and the back of your head and neck and creates problems with headaches, dizziness and affect (depression, bipolar  and anxiety disorders).   Resulting in use of Trazadone, Wellbutrin, Prozac and more.


In evaluating and helping people correct their spine, we pay close attention to and give people the tools to put the spine back to its original configuration with these curves again.  The trick is to get their early enough so that there’s still enough soft tissue to normalize the alignment.  If many years go by misaligned, it’s hard and sometimes no longer possible to correct.  This is called structural correction. 


Structural correction differs from other approaches in that in addition to clearing nerve interference adjusting the spine, you are given tools to move your head back to normal posture, correct uneven hips,etc…


I didn’t always practice that way.  I initially spent much time treating the symptoms of spine problems.  Using electrical muscle stimulation to decrease muscle spasm or using ultrasound to decrease pain and inflammation around a joint.  I didn’t appreciate the importance and to be honest, I didn’t think it was possible to correct the curves and structure of the spine.   Groundbreaking work in chiropractic research in the last 20 years has shown this is possible and preferable. 


As a result, I don’t try to ameliorate the muscle spasm with electrical current.   Spasm is never the cause, it’s the effect.  Running current through the muscle to stop it from contracting is a very short lived effect, maybe 3-5 hours.   In addition, if you think about how the brain is going to incorporate, adapt and respond to… those artificial signals being introduced to the nerves going up to the brain… well… it makes NO sense.  Applying electricity isn’t natural and you’re not going to run into this in your workday.  There is no need for the body to adapt to that experience.   So, administering electricity pushes the body AWAY from normal adaptation.  


That doesn’t mean it’s never been necessary for anyone.  If you literally can’t move because of spasm and can’t get any relief any other way, that’s better than prescription Flexeril, a centrally acting muscle relaxer that relaxes ALL the muscles in the body, not just where there was spasm.   But, it’s not a pathway back to healthy and normal function. It’s a tool for a crisis, which comes up rarely in our day to day here taking care of people with these kinds of problems.


The spine as I said, protects the nerves. It is like a coat of armor.  Some other good things to know about it are how to support it nutritionally.   Aside from bone health, which is supported by adequate vitamin D, magnesium and calcium, the cartilage of the spine can be supported with glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate.  In approximately 50/50 percent combination. 


One last thing, if you’ve got damaged discs and they have deteriorated, it is helpful to stretch them apart.   Either with traction for your neck or inversion table or Roman Chair for your low back.  Gravity gets the best of them once they’re damaged.  The key is to keep them moving.   Cartilage doesn’t have any blood supply.  The only way cartilage stays healthy is the motion of the segment adjacent to it washing fluid over the surface or in the case of the disc, movement.  This enhances the absorption of nutrients.


The most important thing is structural integrity and normal movement of all the segments.  Once you lose that, it irritates the nervous system, gives the brain incomplete information to formulate muscle tone and you lose the ability to adapt to the forces of nature trying to wear you down. 


That means, getting adjusted regularly. 


Have a great day.


Dr. B.

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