Is a J Shaped Spine the Way out of Back Pain?


NPR recently featured the work of acupuncturist, Esther Gokhale, and her method to restore the spine to ‘primal posture’. Gokhale believes that the American S-shaped spine is what causes our back pain and that we should attempt to restore our bodies to a J-back posture where the back is flat and then the low back curves.

From my experience, both personal and in my work with clients, when we artificially modify our posture to what we think or someone says is correct, our bodies usually react with new pain. Our tissues calibrate to our alignment and movement, so when we abruptly shift that alignment, the body can get a testy about it.

An S-shaped spine isn’t a phenomenon confined to particular parts of the world, it is the spinal shape of homo sapiens. An exaggerated S encompasses what we all consider ‘poor posture’ with the forward head, slumped shoulders and pooched out belly. A naturally S-shaped spine looks more like a spring and acts as a shock absorber with every step we take. Back pain can come from a variety of issues all over the body, not just from the configuration of the spine. While good posture can help keep our bodies out of pain, it needs to arise organically over time through modified movement patterns and good alignment in order to stick around.

Some of my clients who forced a flat mid back because they thought it was proper posture, (think a ballet dancer or military posture), have suffered from neck and shoulder issues later in life. The thoracic spine of the mid back should be highly flexible not just front-to-back, but side-to-side and in rotation for healthy, pain-free movement. When people assume a flat mid back posture, the range of motion is often limited creating undue strain in places like the neck and shoulders as well as the lower back.

Regardless of your current back shape, be it an S, J or even an I, integrating new movement patterns with lots of side bending and twisting will help keep your back flexible and happy. Yoga incorporates these movements, but you can also explore this daily by side bending while in line at the grocery store or twisting to one side and then the other…I guarantee one way will be easier than the other and there’s a start to your personal path for spinal health.

Helping you find effort with ease…

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