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The Importance of a Neutral Spine

In all the busyness of life, are you taking care of your spine? Many of us inadvertently partake in daily activities that have a negative impact on our posture. Whether it’s sitting at a desk, constantly bending over and lifting, or simply being on your feet all day; these simple things can really upset our spines. Thankfully, maintaining a neutral spine is easier than you think, and it will drastically improve your quality of life in the long run! All it takes is a little bit of awareness…

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What is Neutral Spine Exactly?

Neutral spine is essentially a neutral posture – the stance that is attained when the spine is aligned and not twisted, and joints are not bent. When we maintain our ideal posture via neutral spine, our body is properly aligned, therefore requiring less energy to remain that way. So beneficial is this optimal alignment that it applies minimal stress on body tissue, improves balance and stability, supports optimal breathing, and promotes healthy circulation.

These are all great things for our body and overall muscular-skeletal health. So how do we do it?

How to Achieve a Neutral Spine Position

The first step in achieving a neutral spine position is to understand the correct spine posture. Our spines have 3 natural curves. The lumbar spine (lower back) curves inward, the thoracic spine (mid-back) is curved outward, and the cervical spine (upper back and neck) has a slight forward curve. Hence why we refer to a pain-free, healthy posture as a ‘neutral spine’ rather than a straight spine.

I’m sure you recall all those years of teachers shouting, “Sit up straight!” We now know they should have been shouting, “Sit neutral!”

Achieving a neutral spine posture is pretty simple. Most of the work stems from mind power, with a little helping hand from our pelvis and shoulders.

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Finding Neutral Spine Alignment

This is a basic exercise that you can apply to the body anytime, anywhere. Even sitting down!

  1. Bring your feet together so that the big toes are touching and the outsides of the feet are parallel.
  2. From here, you’re going to inhale and begin to visualise what a neutral spine should look like.
  3. As you exhale, you’ll tilt the front of your pelvis back, pushing your belly button towards your spine.
  4. On your next exhalation, drop your shoulders away from your ears and roll them back (you’ve suddenly realised how much you were slouching!)
  5. Finally, tuck the chin very slightly.

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Of course everyone’s spine and pelvic alignment is unique. Standing side on to a mirror, you’ll probably need to slightly adjust the anterior and posterior tilt of your pelvis to find your very own ‘neutral spine.’

Voilà! It’s almost as if your spine is smiling at you!

The pelvic tilt and shoulder alignment are enough to keep your spine in a neutral position. The work from your pelvic floor creates a stable base for your spine and by consciously engaging your core muscles; you’re creating strength with minimal effort. It’s important to incorporate this movement into all parts of your day to prevent stiffness and injury, especially during exercise.

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At first you’ll probably catch yourself slouching often, and might feel like it’s a habit too tough to break. Eventually, it will start to come naturally (it is your bod’s natural position after all), and you’ll be standing or sitting with a neutral spine without even realising. In the meantime, it can help to set yourself reminders, or leave a sticky note on your desk prompting yourself to – ‘sit neutral!’

So get to work on getting neutral! Your exercise routine, work-life and everyday life will suddenly seem a lot more comfortable, and your future muscular-skeletal self will love you for it!