The benefits of the neutral spine and how to use it

14 januari 20195 min reading time

You may have heard about the neutral spine. If your back is injured, people recommend that you find your neutral spine and use it. But what does that mean? How can you do that, and is it even helpful? In this blog post, I will explain what the neutral spine is, why it’s important, and how to use it.

The major benefit of the neutral spine

The neutral spine is the safest, most protected position of the spine. When the vertebrae are lined up in this specific way, they offer the most resilience. In that configuration, the muscles are able to protect the spine from outside forces such as sheer (e.g., when you pick up something from the floor), twisting (e.g., when you turn to open a door), or compressive forces (e.g., when you carry something heavy).

The major benefit of the neutral spine is the stability it provides. If you want to be able to pick up and carry heavy loads or make pushing and pulling movements, you need to have a stable foundation. Without such a stable basis, you cannot perform the movement properly and you may get injured. The neutral spine provides the necessary stability for performing movements and carrying loads.

Find your neutral spine

You can find your neutral spine by doing a couple of simple movements. First, you need to stand up straight in a relaxed manner. Then, twist your hips forward, rounding your lower back. Try not to involve the chest. Take care and move slowly if you have pain. This is one extreme where your hips are twisted forward.

Next, twist your hips backward, arching your lower back. Again, try not to involve the chest. Take care and move slowly if you have pain. This is the other extreme where your hips are twisted backward.

Now, bring the hips back to the midpoint between these two extremes. This is the neutral pelvic position which creates the base of the neutral spine. In order to complete the neutral spine position, we need to have a proud, upright posture. In most cases, this means raising the chest bone by 2-4 cm. This places the upper part of the spine in a neutral position as well.

How to use your neutral spine

Once you’ve found your neutral spine position, you can now engage the right muscle groups to stiffen the trunk (the body from the hips to the shoulders) as a whole. Ideally, you want to engage as many muscles as possible to make the trunk stiff and strong. This is not easy because many of us have weakened communication between the brain and some vital stabilising musculature. In most cases, you might have to seek professional help in order to start up the process again.

In contrast, we see this process performed very well in many top athletes. For example, sprinters have incredibly muscular trunks because they need to lock them down and generate immense power from their hips and shoulders. A similar thing can be seen in high-level tennis players, golfers, fighters, and weightlifters. These athletes are making use of the body’s basic principle for generating power. They move efficiently through their hips and shoulders while keeping the trunk fixed and stiffened at the critical split second of explosive power.

Final remarks

The neutral spine can be extremely helpful when healing an injury, but it is not a tool to be applied in all situations. When you have a spinal injury, your best bet is to heal it by using the neutral spine. But after recovery, you should go back to using the full range of motion of your spine. If you continue to move in a protected, and thus constrained, manner, you may lose some range of motion in your movements. After the injury has healed, you can still use the neutral spine when lifting heavy objects or making sudden movements in order to protect your spine. For other movements, you don’t need to be limited to the neutral spine.

Finding your neutral spine and using it correctly can be tricky and highly individual. I can’t recommend enough your finding an expert in this field who can teach you these basic skills. This will most likely spare you unnecessary injuries and costly bills. In this case, investing in prevention is much better than prolonged treatment at a later stage.