Neutral spine or neutral posture is the proper alignment of the body between postural extremes. In its natural alignment, the spine is not straight. It has curves in the thoracic (upper) and lumbar (lower) regions. There is a slight forward curve in the lumbar region (lordosis), a slight backward curve in the thoracic region (kyphosis) and a slight extension in the tiny cervical vertebra at the top of the spine. In addition, the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are aligned as if a plumb line was running from the ears down through the body into the legs and the feet.
In neutral posture, the body is able to function in its strongest, most balanced position. We are putting the least amount of stress into the spine and by keeping the body in it’s correct shape, we are then able to strengthen the supporting muscles and improve joint mobility.
Finding Neutral Spine. The most challenging part of achieving neutral spine is feeling a neutral position of the pelvis. Begin by lying on the floor on your back. Bend your knees so that your feet are hip distance apart about 6-10 inches away from the back of the legs. Your feet should be flat on the floor. In this position, the lower region of the back will not be pressed down onto the floor. You will be preserving the natural curve of the lower spine. Place your hands on your hip bones. Place your index fingers on the top of your pubic bone. You will be making a triangle with the bones you can feel on the front of the pelvis.
Visualise a glass of water balanced inside the triangle. Using the muscles of the abdomen, (not the legs) press the lower back down towards the floor. This is a posterior tilt of the pelvis and the “glass on water” would spill onto your tummy button. Release the pelvis back to neutral, then over-arch the low back in the opposite direction. This is an anterior tilt of the pelvis and the “glass of water” would spill out towards your legs. Work through this range of motion several times trying to initiate the movement in the abdominal muscles leaving the legs and feet relaxed. After several repetitions, allow your pelvis to come back to neutral, a midway position somewhere between the over exaggerated posterior and anterior tilts. The amount of space between your lower back and the floor will vary according to the natural curve of your spine.
1. Place the feet hip width apart. This is a little closer together than shoulder distance apart, which is a common fitness position.
2. Starting with flexed or bent knees, straighten up into a full standing position. The knees should remain softened, not locked. Think about pulling up through the mid-line of the body.
3. Focus on finding the neutral position of the pelvis that was identified lying on the floor. You may need to work through the posterior/anterior positions a couple of times before settling in neutral.
4. Relax your shoulders down and roll them back. Think about bringing your shoulder blades in towards your spine and sliding them down towards the floor. Imagine tucking a pair of wings in behind you.
5. Draw your chin in so that your ears are inline with your collar bones. Your nose should be opposite the very tip of your spine where it connects with the head.
This position requires work to maintain! Even though it is the natural alignment of the body, most people have developed habits and imbalances that make it feel unnatural. However, it is essential to strengthen the muscles of the core in proper alignment, and establishing neutral posture is the first step. Try to increase your awareness of neutral posture in your daily and fitness activities. Remember to walk everywhere as though you “own the place”! Walk tall, shoulders back, chin square and walk with confidence!