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Instep Dance Magazine Articles

Reprints of monthly column as first appearing in Instep Dance Magazine.

October 1997

Healthy Spinal Curves: A Necessity for Sensational Dancing

By Rick Allen, DC

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Last month I focused on proper, upright posture for better dancing. Did you take a look at your own posture? Did you glance in the mirror, have a friend take your photograph while standing naturally, and look at your footprint in the sand? Did you take a video of you and your partner or instructor dancing? Did you talk to your instructor about improving your posture and balance? Did you consider using the metal frame as Shohei used in the movie "Shall We Dance?" Did you take action to make a change? If not, gravity will continue to make changes bit by bit.

This month I will give you a bit of background on why spinal curves are important for the health of your nervous system and, consequently, your whole body.

The key to long term health and great dancing is proper balance -- physical, chemical, emotional and spiritual. Simplistically, your body is comprised of bones, muscles, ligaments, and connective fascia enclosing organs. And, as the song goes, "them bones, them bones, gonna rise again, gonna dance and exercise again" under the control of the nervous system. (At least that's how I remember it. My apologies to Little Abner.)

Every action is controlled by the nervous system - organ function, posture and movement. The bony housing of the skull and spinal column protects the central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord. The nervous system both influences and is influenced by posture. For instance, emotional conditions, such as anxiety or depression, are reflected in a forward head posture. I remember a cartoon of Charlie Brown looking depressed, with the classic forward head posture. You can tell he is depressed, just by looking at him. Conversely, a forward head posture, often with a straight neck, forces the weight of the head down, tightening neck muscles, altering breathing, leading to headaches and creating emotional upheaval. Think of it as a spiral: emotional turmoil leads to poor posture leads, which leads to.... You get the picture?

Long term, the altered weight of a forward head posture leads to flattening of intervertebral disc spaces. On x-ray film they appear as "empty" spaces between the vertebrae. In reality, they are the spongy cushions between each bone in the spinal column. They don't have a direct blood supply to maintain their health. Instead, they soak up nutrients and dispose of metabolic waste by a squishing motion just like sponges. Each time your spine moves the disc imbibes spinal fluid. If two or more adjacent vertebrae are stuck or fixated, the disc(s) between cannot get the necessary nutrients. On x-ray film the spaces shrink between the bones. Over years, the disc dries out, becomes more fragile, and may even rupture with a stress as small as just bending over, let alone a fancy dance move! This process is called degenerative joint disease or DJD.

Another degenerative process also occurs insidiously with time and poor spinal curves: osteoarthritis and bone spurs. Contrary to what you might think, bone is alive and constantly changes shape in response to the stresses placed on it according to Wolff's Law. Osteoarthritis and spurs may form with trauma and altered spinal biomechanics. The spurs interfere with proper joint motion. If the spurs are pointed toward the spinal cord, they can physically interfere with nerve function. If the spurs are long enough, they may actually meet, fusing like stalactites and stalagmites in a cave.

The degenerative process also leads to soft tissue swelling which can also press on the nerves, interfering with their proper function. This swelling and irritation also releases histamines and other chemicals that interfere with the nerve transmission. You might think of this as damage to the "wiring" of your body. Just as damage to phone wires would interfere with phone transmission, pressure or chemical irritation will interfere with the function of your body.

The technical term for this process is the "vertebral subluxation complex." While I described the process for the neck or cervical spine, the same process can occur in the low back or lumbar spine. Obviously, you want to avoid this problem by a combination of good nutrition, regular stretching and exercise, and regular spinal care just like regular dental care. Along with chiropractic adjustment, massage, myofascial release, and nutritional counseling, which I consider vital for a long-term healthy, subluxation-free life, I often prescribe specific exercises and a "posture pump" for daily use at home to counter the effects of gravity, stress and poor posture.

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