2 Apr
2009

The spine is organised so precisely that it is hardly possible to damage any one of its components without affecting all the rest, even though the effect of this may not become apparent for a long time.

Anything that alters the shape or position of the vertebrae causes additional stress on the facet joints which help to keep the vertebrae in place, and they, in turn, then exert more stress on the muscles and ligaments.

When all the joints of the spine are fully mobile, the sum of all the little movements that they are able to perform amounts to a wide range of activity – all that anyone should ever need. But if some of these joints should become stiff – something that one might be unaware of at the time – the other joints find it more difficult to carry out their normal range of movements. This, in turn, places the adjoining muscles at a disadvantage, causing them to go into spasm, which then puts stress on the work of the other muscle groups in the region.

Moreover, many people go in for daily activities which require the spine to move in ways which are anatomically unwise. Many so-called keep-fit exercises also demand movements which the spine is not constructed to perform, and which are stressful to the joints.

A frequent injury is ‘whiplash’ (which may be caused in a car accident) when, as the result of impact, the head is violently jerked forwards or backwards and the neck ligaments severely strained or even torn.

At the lower end of the spine, the pelvis is joined to the sacrum by the sacroiliac joints, reinforced by strong ligaments, which may, however, be damaged by a sudden jolt: by sitting down very hard, or by violent exercise that involves a twisting motion. A commoner reason for trouble there is reserved for mothers. Towards the end of pregnancy, hormonal action softens these ligaments, in order to allow easier passage to the baby’s head through the pelvic ring, and this makes the sacroiliac joints prone to injury. Once the baby is born, the ligaments tighten again over a period of several months.

However, if there is additional strain when the joint is loosened, or if there are frequent pregnancies, the ligaments joining the two bones may never quite recover their original immobility.

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