An educational look inside the dancer – The Vertebral Column

As cliché as it reads, “the body is the dancer’s instrument.”  We use the body, rely on the body, and depend on the body to do our job.  We must listen to it too.  When we have a  muscle spasm we have to consider drinking more water, when the body is fatigued we must calm our dancing, when we bruise we have to adjust our diet, and when our bones become fragile we may consider increasing our intake of calcium.  To meet the demands of our work (rehearsing and performing, day-after-day, season-after-season), we must listen to our bodies.  Beyond this listening act, dancers’ aren’t required to know the education behind the body, but for those who are interested; dancehealthier would be pleased to fill you in.

Today, dancehealthier, will continue the series, “An educational look inside the body,” with a special look at the The Vertebral Column.  Whether you are dancer reading this post or an athlete, a teacher, a biker, a computer user, a desk worker, a sleeper, a person; dancehealthier hopes that “you” will find it helpful because as we all well know, the “back” is a vulnerable and easily ache-able body part.  And it’s a big body part that links the skull to the pelvis.

 The Vertebral Column

Vertebral Column

Indeed, the vertebral column forms the body’s major axial support.  Additionally, it is responsible for the protection of the delicate spinal cord while allowing connections and pathways for spinal nerves to be made.  One might think that the vertebral column might suggest a rigid support rod, but in actuality it consists of 24 single bones – called vertebrae – and 2 fused bones (sacrum and coccyx).  The vertebrae are separated by pads of fibrocartilage – called intervertebral discs – which are responsible for cushioning the vertebrae while absorbing shock.  The 24 singular bones are divided into three regions, which dancehealthier will now discuss further.

  • Cervical Vertebrae:  There are 7 cervical vertebrae (C1 through C7).  These 7 bones are referred to as the 7 bones of the neck.  Did you know that C1 is responsible for your ability to nod “YES,” C2 is responsible for your ability to pivot or rotate your head and the articulation between C1 and C2 allows you to nod “NO?”  Now tilt your head forward.  The bone that “juts” out the furthest can be classified as your C7 vertebrae.
  • Thoracic Vertebrae:  There are 12 thoracic vertebrae (T1 through T12).  These bones have a larger body than the cervical vertebrae.  Did you know that their bodies are somewhat heart-shaped – with projections of course?  These 12 vertebrae articulate with your ribs.
  • Lumbar Vertebrae:  There are 5 lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5).  These bones have massive block-like bodies compared to the earlier mentioned.  This structure is significant for its role in reducing mobility to provide sturdiness for extreme amounts of stress put on the vertebral column.
  • The Sacrum:   The sacrum is a composite bone formed by the fusion of 5 vertebrae.  The sacrum articulates with L5 and the coccyx (tailbone).  Both sides of the sacrum contain sacral foramina (openings) which allow for blood vessels and nerves to pass.

Ways to keep the dancer spine healthy:

  • Warm up your back, slowly articulating each vertebrae at a time, rather than warming it up as if it is one large rod.
  • Majority of the time, dancers want to move their spine from their lumbar region.  For dancers, teachers, and coaches it is important to be able to recognize this instinct and correct it by cueing “port de bras,” from the upper spine.  A good way for teachers to practice this is to place your palm on the upper thoracic region of your student’s back and have the student arch their back as if they are arching over your palm.  Do not allow them to do bend from their lumber region.
  • Invest in a comfortable bed that works “right for your spine.”  This may be different from person to person.  A “good” pillow is also helpful.
  • Massage it out.  Yoga helps many.  Pilates too.
  • Find what helps and keep up with it.  Remember that everything in your body is connected and a large part of this connection comes from your spine.
Take a look at past entries from the series:

Reference:  Marieb, Elaine, N., & Mitchell, Susan, J.  Human Anatomy & Physiology Laboratory Manual: Ninth Edition.  Pearson Education, Inc. 2011.


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