Aikido and spine
I think we are finally ready to conclude all body parts and concentrate on spine – a no man’s land which has been explored by many and explained by many with so many mistaken concepts it is hard to believe. I will present my point of view with a belief that I am not a glass ball of a witch and my conclusions are questionable to some. But I would defend them because my patients show me the correctness of them. Nature defends itself. There is just one physiology, just one anatomy, we will not invent anything revolutionary since.
Let me divide my deduction into several parts:
- Mechanical analysis of the spine, a quick look at its five parts,
- Its role in autonomic body function,
- Aikido and spine
- Pain and aikido
Ad.1. From mechanical point of view human spine is a system of pivots, shock absorbers and propelling devices. Range of movement of particular spine parts depends on shapes of articular surfaces that co-work and determine its mobility.
We anatomically divide neck into two major parts: sub-occipital complex and the remaining part or functionally into sub-occipital to C3 level and from C4 to Th4. The upper segments work in a different manner than the rest. They are responsible for rotating the head which goes along the rest of the neck of course and meets with neck/thoracic junction where rotation is also remarkably significant too. Neck bends forward and backwards and rotates successfully only when all segments are free from mechanical or reflex limitations and when underlying thoracic segments are also fully mobile. Lack of movement on any of the levels requires inner compensation within the spine and it costs an extra effort. Short and long muscles give it a smooth action only when in proper elasticity and length.
Strong but elastic and springy rib gage protects internal organs, crucially vital to body functions. Thoracic spine has to co-work with the ribs to make the whole construction as much rigid as elastic. Its movements are strictly determined by ribs and sternum. Thoracic spine movements determine neck fluent movements. Muscles do their job well when they are free from pathogical tension or injuries.
This part is the most controversial for so many enigmas considering low back. It mainly bends forward and backward with minimal rotation apart from the very last joint junction between L5 (lowest lumbar vertebrae) and sacral bone. Thick discs, strong supporting ligaments and muscles support the upper body on pelvis, move it and decelerate its movements.
Ad 2. Skeletal spine (bones) allows the central nervous system to penetrate it with its spinal cord. On every spine level it gives a pair of nerves leaving spinal cord and divides them into ventral and dorsal nerves. They innervate all internal organs, muscles, veins, giving them connections to and from your brain. With autonomic nervous system running along the spine but outside – nervous system controls all body functions with no control from our consciousness. It all works automatically. Your muscle tension does, your skin sweating does, your blood pressure does etc. All impulses that go here and there mix together in one huge “internet superhighway” within you. Impulses travel very fast from one place to another. Spine and spinal cord seems to influence those journeys a lot.
Ad 3. Spine in aikido.. well, it is more to describe than we suppose. To make the story short I will put it all in points:
a) Spine holds all limbs and chest so it transmits all movements from one end of the locomotor spine to another, it works as a transmitter of any smallest tensions, muscle actions that we are applying, feeling or responding to;
b) Spine dampens and vertical vibrations through its internal cushions – discs (jelly items that do absorb and disarm those vibrations taking place during any moves);
c) Spine allows to perform any movement requires because it consists so many articulation surfaces it can choose the most convenient combination for movement possible, it usually makes them work all together with some focused on movement more and some less;
d) Spine bends to match our demands in falls forward and backward, it takes throws against the ground so it protects the spinal cord and the rest of the body from being injured;
e) Spine, when free from movement limitations, allows to perform whatever we think of, to be exact: any combination from sucesfull irimi, through kaiten nage, to suwari waza techniques for example;
f) Spine reads our state of mind, replies to it, reflects it no matter what physical construction we are made of or what history we have been through; it glows when we are healthy, springy and full of life, it shades when opposite, when in bad moods, in illness, in pain;
g) Spine is also connected with breathing: its shape and relation with chest is a basic factor on breathing, apart from soft tissue limitation, of course.
Ad 4. Painful spine in aikido means the following:
a) It had been injured and not cured well (by injure I understand something less that bone breakage but soft tissue disorders like capsula irritations, ligamentous instability that leads to hypermobility and/or muscle imbalance affecting smooth spine segment action)
b) It has no chance for a good warm up before dojo work-outs and for a reasonable cooling down after,
c) It has some persistent tissue irritations in one of its tissues or in group of them and cannot work free without warning signals from them,
From my personal experience the most rearly consulted problem in the spine is a dics dysfunction / prolapse / hernia, whatever we call it. Disc is commonly blamed on all spine problems and it is not true. There are so many spine surrounding tissues that are innervated and responding to what they are loaded with it is a maze to point out the very one. With specific manual procedures we are able to determine what tissue groups we need to work with to bring the problem to reasonable size and get rid of it. Sometimes very simple procedures can bring a lot of relief in pain and help to get back to exercises again.
Pain in aikido usually means lack of elasticity in muscles governing pelvic action and it gets transmited as asymmetric spine action. This – in turn – disturbs fluent action of the whole body and it is only a matter of time to reveal this as a painful disorder.
Aikido is supposed to be a pain-free activity. It should fill us with pleasure and joy of learning and performing. It is bad when with pain we take it away from us on our own demand. Reasonable stretching exercises connected with skillful breathing and working on our personal growth is a simple way to pain free aikido. Our body with all its parts described in all my articles is a fantastic mechanism we are with 24 hrs a day and need to care of it to maintain a healthy life. Proper nutrition, physical exercises (aikido J) and emotional health should guarantee the very balanced state of us. And that is my wish to all of my aikido friends.