Back Care Basics

A few weeks ago I pulled a muscle in the front of my thigh and sometimes it flares up when I dance. It almost put me on the benches in one class I taught, with sudden sharp pain and a weakness that left me unable to put weight on my leg for a few beats. I got through the rest of the class by teaching at a gentler level one.

I probably aggravated an injury from a few months back that hadn’t fully healed and left me with a weakness, and a certain combination of Nia Technique footwork uncovered it.

Even though I felt it in my quads, I don’t know if it is a quadriceps injury or whether that is just where the pain is ending up. Knowing I have a pronounced curve in my lumbar spine (a sway back) and have had problems with my sacrum in the past, I consider it a back injury if the pain moves around and I can’t find any specific reason for it. I always have to work at opening and lengthening the front quads and adductor inner thigh muscles so that my lower back stays in alignment.

That’s the way it often is with a back injury, especially a soft tissue injury — muscles, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue — since everything is connected an injury in one area can exert pressure on another, causing adjacent muscles to painfully contract.

When our back is working the way it should, it is all too easy to take it for granted. We bend, reach, hug, lift, stretch,  sway, open, undulate, and dance! When something goes wrong, we quickly remember how much trouble we are in without a healthy back. Maybe it has something to do with what the back is supposed to do, and more importantly, what the back is not supposed to do. I thought it would be helpful for me) as well as you, dear readers and Nia students, to review back care basics, beginning with the structure of the spine. 

Structure of the Spine

The back is more complicated than you think. Under the layers of skin, muscle, fat, and ligaments, we get to the structure of the back.

The back is made up of vertebrae, small rounded bones that stack on top of one another. These bones, also referred to as the spinal column collectively, have openings in the middle which house your spinal cord. The spinal cord runs from the base of your brain all the way to your tail-bone. All of your nerves in your body begin in the spinal cord and branch out to various places within the body. Consider for a moment that each foot has over 700 nerve endings!

There are 5 sections to your spinal column:

  • Cervical – 7 movable vertebrae in the neck area
  • Thoracic – 12 movable vertebrae in the chest area
  • Lumbar – 5 movable vertebrae in the lower back area
  • Sacral – 5 fused vertebrae at the level of your pelvis which connect with your pelvis
  • Coccyx – 4 fused vertebrae that make up your tail-bone

Your spine has a natural curve which allows you to move with agility. The spongy discs that reside in between each vertebra are another reason why we can move with fluidity. These discs have a soft middle that protects the spinal cord and a tougher outer layer that supports the weight of the vertebra above and below it.

There are spaces between the vertebrae, created by their unique shape, that allow nerves to pass through. These nerves travel to organs, muscle, ligaments, tendons, skin and the like. At lightning speed, impulses are passed from organs to nerves to the brain, and back to nerves and back to the organ. That is why there is no delay from the time you put your finger on a hot stove to the time that you scream and pull your hand away.

That’s the structure of the back, simply illustrated. However, when you’re experiencing back pain, you wouldn’t think so. There is a complexity to the machinations of the back that cause many of us to suffer from aches and pains that seem like a mystery. When you understand that the back is your support system for your entire body, you can better understand the importance of good back care.


Nia 5 Stages

This is a wonderful warm up you can do. It reminds me of the Feldenkrais classes I took a number of years ago (and the work of Moshe Feldendrais is incorporated into Nia Routines as one of the 3 healing arts, the other two being yoga and the Alexander Technique.)

The patterning and remembering seems to create a natural body alignment and I daresay the brain really likes it. Give it a try and see how you feel aferwards.

We Make Our Bodies

I was having a conversation with one of my Nia students this week, about the activities we’d done in our pasts – reminiscing about the athletes we were in our younger days.

Then I said, “I thought I was done”. I thought I would never become an athlete again.

Well, I was wrong – I wasn’t done. What began as a way to ‘stay in shape’ has instead shaped me, changed me, cell by cell.

I found a path I love through Nia, motivated myself to keep going by taking teacher training and licensing. Through Nia I am a ‘Sacred Athlete’. Becoming a Sacred Athlete is a choice which leads to discovering your purpose and exploring your potential. I encourage you to find your path – or find a new path – or stay on your path.

In this poem by Rumi he says, ‘we made the body’. Yes, you made your body, but you can change the way you are right now, cell by cell. You only have to decide to do it.

When Grapes Turn to Wine

When grapes turn
to wine, they long for our ability to change.

When stars wheel
around the North Pole,
they are longing for our growing consciousness.

Wine got drunk with us,
not the other way.
The body developed out of us, not we from it.

We are bees,
and our body is a honeycomb.
We made
the body, cell by cell we made it.

– – – – – – – – –
Translated by Robert Bly