In previous posts I explained in detail about the evolution of the human spine and how it came to adopt its present form. I explained the function of each curve and why lack of mobility in one spot, respectively hypermobility in another, cause chronic pain and injuries.
Each and every part of the human body has an important function and nothing in our body is an accident. Today I am going to present human anatomy from a different angle. I am going to try to provoke your critical thinking and show you how each and every muscle in the body determines what happens in the whole chain. To help you understand how the body works, I am going to present the so-called Superficial Back and Front Lines.
Specifics of the Superficial Back Line
The so-called Superficial Back Line (SBL) can be described as a line which directs the movement of the human body (see Illustration 1). It either limits forward bending, or, when it isn’t functioning properly, it exaggerates or supports excessive backward bending (extension). SBL can be divided into two parts – right and left (see Illustration 2). The two halves must work in balance and it is the imbalance between them that restricts movement and leads to pain and injuries.
Photo: Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers
Photo: Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers
In terms of posture, the most frequent compensations when the Superficial Back Chain is dysfunctional are:
– hyperextension in the knee joint (quite common in women)
– limited dorsiflexion in the ankle (the movement in Illustration 3)
– tight posterior thigh muscles
– hyperextension in the cervical part (i.e. in the neck)
In the previous issue of the IFS Journal I explained to you what the spine curves are and how they appeared. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into primary and secondary curves which balance each other, i.e. the primary ones fulfill one function, while the secondary ones fulfill the opposite function.
SBL provides the functional link between these curves – from the neck down to the foot and arches (see Illustration 4). In the previous issue of the IFS Journal I discussed the curves in the upper part of the body – the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions and the tailbone.
If we continue downwards, the slight curvature of the knee can be regarded as a secondary curve, the curvature of the heel – as a primary curve and that of the arch – as a secondary one. The knee curvature forms when we learn to stand upright and the curvatures of the arches form when the child starts gaining and developing strength by walking.
All primary curves are supported to a high extent by the bones around them. All secondary curves are highly dependent on the balance of the myofascia (to put it simply, the connective tissue that surrounds everything in the body). This way the secondary curves are directly dependent on the condition of these soft tissues which, as you know, are often tight and change their shape because of muscle imbalances – overuse of certain muscles and underuse of others. At this point you must have realized that the way you use and strain your body has a direct impact on what happens to your spine and every single curve in the body.
When it comes to function and movement, all secondary curves are interconnected. Imbalance in one of them leads to a compensatory response in another. For example, let’s take the knee curvature and that in the lower part of the back (the lumbar region or as we call it – the small of the back). Knee hyperextension is often due to a problem with the secondary curves. In the case of knee hyperextension, the secondary curve at the knee has been turned into a primary curve, which leads to further strain in other secondary curves – the lumbar and the cervical regions (the small of the back and the back). In the first photo you can see the incorrect posture and the result, and in the second photo – the correct posture and the improvement.
SBL is the connection between these curves and the problem usually travels down from one curve to the others and back up. Looking at the body from this perspective, you can find that pain in the small of the back can be caused by a knee problem, i.e. the whole Superficial Back Line is interconnected.
This was a brief discussion of the science and now I am going to give you real-life examples to help you understand what happens to the body in our everyday life, what kinds of pain this leads to and how you can find these imbalances yourselves and correct them.
Compensations in posture as a result of a dysfunctioal SBL
1.Limited mobility in the ankle (ankle dorsiflexion)
This is quite common and is largely due to modern way of life – uncomfortable shoes, high heels and high soles in general, even in sneakers.
If you ever had your feet fitted for orthotics, you were probably told to step on a surface which analyzes which part of the foot supports your weight. Quite often the main part of the weight falls on the heel and it isn’t sufficiently well distributed toward the front part of the foot. This is due to limited mobility or the so-called ankle dorsiflexion, although in some cases it can be caused by lack of stability and poor function of the core muscles.
Try it. Stand up and take your shoes off. Bring your feet next to each other and try to squat all the way down. Do it slowly. It is highly unlikely that you will be able to squat all the way down without having to spread out your feet, when your weight is distributed between your heel and the front part of your foot. The body usually compensates this lack of dorsiflexion by making us spread out our feet, so we can move some weight over to the front part of the foot and keep our balance.
This tendency – to put the main part of your weight on your heel – leads to a strain of the small of the back and of all muscles along the line. What results is a vicious circle and every day and with every movement we reinforce and worsen this movement pattern more and more.
As I said, this is quite common in women. Hyperextension at the knee often leads to hyperextension of the knee ligaments and predisposes you to injuries – tears in the meniscus, ligaments, etc. As you learned above, knee hyperextension disrupts the secondary nature of this curve and leads to compensations in the other curves, mostly in the small of the back. People with hypermobility of the knee joint also have a posture that looks like the one in the photo (A) – and you don’t have to be a woman and wear heels to have this change of posture.
Knee hypermobility leads to exaggerated spine curves and to forward head posture, which in turn leads to lengthening of some of the back muscles, respectively to weakness and tightness of the trapezius muscles around the neck and shoulder. This is how pain in the neck and shoulder can be due to hypermobility of the knee joint. And the other way around: our tendency to sit in front of the computer screen and have our head constantly chasing something in front of us leads to tightening of the trapezius muscles, weakness in the muscles of the upper back and this affects the line all the way down.
Photos 1 and 2
Photo: Anatomy Trains, Tom Myers
3.Problems in the thoracic region
The thoracic region is the first curve and ideally is quite mobile, especially when it comes to rotation. When we turn around, the rotation should come from there and not from the small of the back. For 98% of all people this rotation does not come from the thoracic region, because most of us have lost it.
In photo 3 you will see one of the most common conditions in the upper back. Once again the natural curve of the spine is disrupted. This problem in the thoracic region impedes the correct movement of the shoulder blades, which leads to a forward rotation of the shoulder and problems in the shoulder joint.
The thoracic region is one of the main areas where you need to work to restore mobility – that’s where many problems in the back and shoulders originate.
In this post I shared with you 12 exercises which you can do every morning in order to keep your body mobile. You can start from them, and I will shoot a new series soon.
The problems in the thoracic region and the lack of extension, i.e. ability to bend backwards, lead to compensations. This usually has to do with lifting the chest, which leads to even more strain and pain in the small of the back. Every time a body part isn’t doing its job, another body part takes over its functions and this leads to injuries.
In photo 4.1 you can see how the woman lacks sufficient mobility to lift her arms, so she compensates by lifting her chest, which increases the curve at the small of the back and strains it.
Photos 4.1 and 4.2
In my next post I will discuss the specifics of the so-called Superficial Front Line (SFL). Until then do an analysis based on the information in this post and start moving more consciously.