Updated March 2016
Your Lumbar Spine
Back to Basics
Your spine (also known as the vertebral column) is a dynamic structure that performs a wide range of movements. It is normally able to withstand numerous daily demands, forces and stresses that are placed on it.
Its daily functions include: providing continuous support for the body and head, to maintain correct and upright posture, to allow the body a wide dynamic range of movements and positions, to withstand pressure and shock to the body, to support the rib cage and specific muscle groups, and give important protection to the spinal column.
It is this column that consists of the major nerves that run from the brain to the body and in return.
The spine consists of 34 bones known as vertebrae. These vertebrae stack on top of each other. They are connected by very strong ligaments and joints known as facet joints which are a part of every vertebrae. In between each vertebrae is a highly specialized and very important cushion known as your vertebral disc. These discs are what provide the protection for your spinal column from daily shock and stress.
Sections of the Spine
There are four sections to the spine (diagram 3.1). Each section contains a specific number of vertebrae and adjoining discs. Of the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum & coccyx, it is the lumbar vertebrae that must endure some of the most demanding strains and forces placed on it. The five vertebrae and discs of the lumbar region must accommodate and support the entire upper body constantly without rest during active times of the day. Even while at rest, such as sitting or lying down, the lumbar area must provide support.
The different sections or regions of the spine each have a specific curvature. The lumbar and cervical vertebrae curve forward while the thoracic and sacral curve backward. Together, these curves (along with your muscles) provide the proper shape and therefore posture required for your back. This posture is what is important in order for your spine to handle the demands and stresses placed on by the body. This is necessary to help protect the vertebral discs and the spinal column.
The Normal Curve and Pelvic Tilt
The normal curve and pelvic tilt that the spine and pelvis should have, can be seen in Figure 3.2 (neutral tilt). This is when the spine is properly aligned with the pelvis and the supporting muscles are balanced. The spine can then provide resilience during movement. The exertion from walking, running, jumping, etc, can be absorbed with minimal impact to the brain and the vertebral discs.
Lifting, holding or moving objects require a normal curve and neutral pelvic tilt to protect the lumbar region.
However, when there are muscle imbalances of the spine and pelvis, there can be an over or under curve in the back. This can result in either an anterior pelvic tilt or a posterior one. Here the exaggeration to the curve causes stress to the supporting back muscles and ligaments.
Over time, supporting muscles begin to fatigue and lose their conditioning. Neutral curve and pelvic tilt are affected and this can pose a risk to your vertebral discs and facet joints. By strengthening and stretching some of the muscle groups that help to support your spine, you can maintain a normal, neutral posture, curve and tilt. These muscles are under constant use and sometimes fatigue.
As a result, your posture is at risk to its change in curvature. Therefore a proper routine of exercise is important to correct and maintain this concern.
The Lumbar Region
Pain that is associated with the lower back is generally related to the lumbar spine or region. These are the L1-L5 vertebrae and adjoining discs (Figure 3.3). The anatomy of these five very complex and strong vertebrae consists of multiple bony structures that join very strong yet flexible ligaments, tendons and muscles. The facet joint capsules that link the vertebrae provide protection to the spinal column and allow the spine to move and flex in a controlled fashion. The lumbar spine also has a complex nerve and blood supply for itself in order to function.
Within the vertebral space exists a complex network of nerves and nerve roots to transmit signals along the spine between the brain and the rest of the body.
The lumbar spine is an incredibly strong and resilient structure and yet is able to be highly flexible and mobile. Here, the back can be rigid and immobile to maintain strength and posture and also move along different planes by flexing, extending, twisting and bending sideways.
It is the vertebral discs that sit in between your L5-S1 vertebrae and absorb the most stress in terms of pressure and support. There is an extremely high degree of pressure that these discs must withstand when you move. The L5-S1 disc is subject to the greatest pressure from the body.
80% of forward flexion in the spine occurs in the lumbar vertebrae. 20% occurs between the L4-L5 disc while 60% occurs between the L5-S1. Because of this, it is subject to the most wear and injury. For us, this translates to pain. A loss of disc height also results in loss of flexibility. As we age (30 years and older), disc height decreases. The L5-S1 is the most prone due to higher loads of force placed on it.
The Low Back Pain Program provides specific exercises to help maintain the proper pelvic tilt and to reduce imbalances of pressure on the lumbar region. It will help you to follow practical and useful exercises for the back, hips and leg muscles to reduce stress on the lumbar spine and pelvis.
The benefit of the program is that it progresses you through specific levels of exercise with both the assumption that your mobility is already compromised and limited and also that you are sensitive to pain.
As you focus on this area of difficulty, you can safely treat yourself at your own pace. As your pain decreases, you will move to a level of strength building and reconditioning.
The third level is designed to protect your back from injury and pain recurrence. The final level helps to keep your muscles and body adequately conditioned and prepared to everyday activities that previously would have been pain for you. You use the exercises from this final level when and as needed to stay ‘back healthy’.
To learn more about the program go to the Table of Contents.
If you are ready to begin the program to relieve your back pain, go to the Order / Download the book to begin right away.