Palmetto Spinal Center, L.L.C.
Dr. Erik Younginer  |  |  (803) 799 - 7101

Gravity Syndrome:
Force of Nature  
  Erik Younginer, D.C.

Although more and more Americans suffer with musculoskeletal pain, many still don’t understand the cause and effect relationship that creates their problems.  Over 80% of adults will complain of some spinal related distress in their lives.  We will focus on the ailments that plague the upper half of the spinal column and its adjacent musculature.  These conditions contain symptoms including aching, burning pain between the shoulders or in the neck, radiating numbness or tingling that extends through the arms and hands, and an array of headaches ranging from those of tension to migraines.  Suffering with any of athese could mean you are losing the battle against gravity.

A crash course in human anatomy aids in our comprehension.  The spinal column is divided into three sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper to mid back), and lumbar.  There are 24 spinal bones or vertebrae within these sections that stack on atop one another making joints designed to have full ranges of motion.  Looking at a spine from its front or back, it should be one straight line.  From the side, three curves should exist in each respective section making the spine more resilient like a spring and inherently stronger. Since the bones need some apparatus to move them, five layers of muscles attach onto the vertebrae ranging the full length of the spine.  Between each of the spinal joints reside nerve roots that exit the spinal cord and extend to their final destination within the soft tissue. Irritate these nerves at these exit sites and you can trigger any part(s) of the aforementioned ailments.

Given the right set of circumstances and a period of time, gravity can distort our ideal spine manifesting in nerve irritation.  As an analogy, envision a bowling ball placed atop a broomstick.  You are holding the stick in position to balance the ball that mimics the human head at an average weight of 12-13 pounds.  Our broomstick acts as the neck on which the head rests.  Muscles in your forearms holding the stick are synonymous with the muscles of the neck and upper shoulders.  As long as you hold the stick vertically at a right angle to the ground, this is a relatively easy task requiring little muscle strength.  Now, allow the ball to fall forward closer to the ground a few degrees. The muscles in your forearms are now working overtime holding the bowling ball steady since gravity now has a leverage advantage over you.  The same principle applies to the muscles of the cervical and upper thoracic spine.  Studies show that every inch the head falls forward from its desired centered position over the shoulders increases head weight by 10%.  Here are the negative results.  The integrity of the joints is compromised, and muscles fight to prevent the increasing leverage burden. The muscles remain in an enhanced state of tension opening the door for development of chronic spasms.  The vertebral joints become restricted, misaligned, or both.  The natural reverse-C shaped curve of the neck lessens from its normal angle.  All of this culminates in our formula for distress, nerve irritation.

Let’s identify culprits that generate structural breakdown.  While chemical and emotional stressors can lend to the problem, we will focus on physical stressors as they are more prevalent.  There are literally countless forms of repetitive micro traumas that can place the head and neck in structural compromise.  

* prolonged computer/desk work         * improper lifting techniques
* poor weight training techniques        * lifting a baby/toddler daily (ask any mother)
* substandard work area ergonomics   * sleeping in non-supportive positions
* carrying a loaded purse/bookpack    * extended car/plane travel
* lack of proper exercise                      * poor posture

Once gravity has the upper hand in the leverage game, a whole complex of abnormalities can develop.  The longer you maintain improper structure, the more these following five factors are allowed to fester and progress.  Abnormal position and motion of the vertebrae lend to uneven wear and tear on the joints.  The nervous system is unable to operate at its peak level as nerves become either over-excited or less active.  Muscles can spasm or potentially move into a weakened state called atrophy.  Rigid adhesions form in what was once healthy muscle tissue.  The soft tissue including the ligaments and discs show signs of pathology as blood supply to the affected areas lessens, and tears and herniations become possible.  Spinal degeneration can develop at an earlier phase of life and at an accelerated rate.  The spurring and fusing of the vertebrae are the body’s attempt to aid in an area of instability.  
We’ve covered the syndrome and the havoc it reigns, so let’s discuss solutions to combat our cascading events.  First, remove all obstacles in your environment that promote poor posture.  Examples of this include raising the level of your computer monitor above eye level, use speaker phone or a hands free device when talking on the phone, and utilize a lumbar support during travel to keep the spine erect from its foundation up.  Next, you must have your musculoskeletal system checked for problem areas by a doctor who can also restore normal function to troubled sites.  This obviously is the specialty of your chiropractor, but complementary fields of healing such as massage therapy offer a tag team approach.  Properly prescribed home traction acts to distract cervical joints yielding a greater opening for irritated nerve roots to exit.  The head and neck are also brought back into extension that reinitiates collapsed cervical curvature.  The proactive portion of your recovery involves following appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises that not only improve mobility and stability but also serve as a preventive measure to keep your pains at bay.   Each person is an individual, and so is his or her particular condition.  Therefore, your doctor might provide additional treatment options beyond these mentioned.