When was the last time you focused on moving all of your spine? According to Joseph H. Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method (originally referred to as Contrology), if your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old and if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young. Spinal stability and mobility are key elements in the trunk integration that is practiced in Pilates.

I have taught Pilates for 20 years and now teach Pilates instructors as a Balanced Body® Master Trainer at Midtown. On a daily basis, I work with members to untangle disfunctional movement patterns and help lay the foundation for them to achieve efficient movement. When members approach me about having aches and pains, they are often surprised to hear that the body part that aches is not the issue. For instance, knee pain is often related to a disfunction of the foot, ankle, hip, or all three. When the issue persists long enough it results in a knee injury. Fixing the knee, however, will not always solve the underlying disfunction that initially caused the injury.

The spine is very much the same. Students with neck pain, low back pain, headaches, shoulder pain, and hip pain often find relief when they focus on spinal mobility. Each section of spine has vertebra that are shaped differently to facilitate different ranges of motion in different directions. The seven cervical vertebrae provide the most range in all directions and help us move our heads around to observe our surroundings.

The five lumber vertebrae provide the second highest amount of flexion, extension, and lateral flexion, but not much rotation due to the shape of these bones. What I find the most interesting is the average range of motion for the twelve thoracic vertebrae. For many people, the thoracic spine has minimal to no mobility. Our thoracic spines should be forward bending (flexing), back bending (extending), side bending (laterally flexing) and twisting (rotating). The shape of these bones facilitate range in all directions, but the shape of the spinous processes limits the amount of extension. This makes extension work all the more important. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

All too often I see the lack of mobility in the thoracic spine and hypermobility of the cervical and lumbar spine. The cervical vertebrae and the lumbar vertebrae are forced to do the job of all 24 vertebrae. It’s no wonder why so many people suffer from lower back and neck pain, not to mention the disfunctional patterns that arise in the shoulder girdles from an immobilized thoracic spine. Putting a coat on or reaching for a seatbelt can become difficult.

Joe Pilates believed that breathing, concentration, control, precision, balanced muscle development, rhythm, whole body movement and relaxation are important components to health and well-being. Midtown offers these elements in many ways in its programs. If you are ready to set your thoracic spine free, stop by the Pilates Studio upstairs and chat with an instructor. Remember, you are only as old as your spine.