Look around you and you will notice that most living things have curves. Flowers, fruits, the head of a bird, the underside of a dog – all of these are curved. The belly of a pregnant woman is a large curve; the baby nestled in the womb is curled up in a curved position. And a newborn baby, so accustomed to being curled up in the mother’s womb for 9 months, tends to revert back to the curved position any chance he can.
As the baby grows, we’ve been taught to provide them with tummy time; essentially placing the baby face down so that he can use his little neck muscles to lift up his head and develop the curve in his neck – the cervical curve. As he starts to crawl, he pushes up on all fours and hunches his back, much like a cat does when stretching, which begins to develop the curve in his upper back – the thoracic curve. As a toddler, it’s easy to notice the pot belly stance as he struggles to find his balance and develop the curve in his lower back – the lumbar curve.
Throughout our entire life, our body uses these curves as shock absorbers. The curves help us to balance and move. When viewed from the side, the body should have three distinct curves – one in the neck, one in the mid back and one in the lower back.
The curve in the neck is considered the most important, and has been referred to as the arc of life. This is a term coined by a neurosurgeon due to the importance of the cervical curve and the structure it protects – your nervous system. All of the nerves which control your arms, legs, torso and every one of your internal organs must flow through this area. A pinched nerve in the neck can affect every part of your body.
Alfred Brieg, MD stated that “Loss of the cervical curve (arc of life) stretches the spinal cord 5 to 7cm and produces pathological tension, putting the body in a state of disease.” Multiple studies have shown that a loss of this curve reduces lung capacity by up to 30%; decreased lung capacity has been linked to COPD, heart disease and cancer. Renee Calliet, MD concluded that “decreased curves and abnormal spinal position affects the heart, lungs and digestive system.”
Research shows that deviations from the normal spinal curvatures increase mortality (speed up death) and take up to 14 years off your life. Abnormal posture causes organ disease, muscle tension, increased sensitivity to pain and weakened immune system. Loss of cervical curve can also result in loss of balance, dizziness, disturbance in gait, overall poor health, headaches, pain, numbness, weaknesses and decreased quality of life. Changes in the arc of life dramatically reduce the amount of endorphin production. Endorphins are the feel good hormone; without adequate endorphin production, many otherwise non-painful sensations are experienced as pain – think of Fibromyalgia. When changes in the arc of life are present, the joints in the cervical spine are under extra stress and begin to wear out, or degenerate, faster than normal, causing Degenerative Joint Disease and Osteoarthritis.
Think of the arc of life as a banana. If I straighten out the banana, what would happen to the fruit inside? Pretty messy, right? So how do you know if you have a loss of the arc of life? A Chiropractor can perform several non-invasive, painless tests to determine if you have a normal cervical curve and normal function of the arc of life. If a deviation is suspected, an x-ray may be taken to show a clear picture of what your spine is doing.
If you have a deviation from the normal arc of life, Chiropractic adjustments will be performed to restore the normal curves. Exercises and cervical traction may be used to facilitate the correction of the curve. Studies show that Chiropractic adjustments to correct the arc of life “increase the patient’s ability to aerate his/her lungs, and improve vital capacity and immune activity.” “Improved immune function and plasma endorphin levels are positively influenced by spinal correcting adjustments.”
It is important to have your spine evaluated periodically, so that any deviations can be detected before permanent damage develops. If you are already experiencing any of the above symptoms, I urge you to have your spine checked right away so that you may begin a plan of correction