Astronauts, Space, Scoliosis and Spinal Fusions

I am always looking for ways to inspire more axial elongation in my clients who have scoliosis and spinal fusions.  Gravity is heavy and compresses the spine.  With scoliosis, the compression is asymmetrical which leads to more torsion over time.  With spinal fusions, we have less cushion in general.  Sometimes, the surgeons remove the intervertebral discs during spinal fusions surgery and sometimes they’re left in place. In addition, we may have a scoliosis curve above or below the fusion.

Regardless of our differences, axial elongation benefits everyone!

Sometimes, I sound like a broken record when I teach.  “Imagine that you’re creating more space in between each of your vertebra.”  “Grow taller like you’re Jack’s Bean Stalk reaching for the clouds.”  “Gravity is heavy.”  “Legs up in the chair (chair savasana, constructive rest position, Alexander lie down) is so wonderful because it passively decompresses the spine.”

This week I discovered an amazing article from NASA’s website about gravity and the compressive forces it places on the spine.[1]  In a nutshell: the astronauts are 2-3 inches taller in space because there is no gravity weighing down on their spine.  How AMAZING is this information?!?

Two things happen in space that likely contribute to the height increase.First, the natural curves in the sagittal plane lengthen out so the spine is freer.The sagittal curves are the ones that involve the spine moving toward the front of the body in the neck, back of the body in the mid-back, and front of the body in the low back like a wave going forward and backward.The second thing that happens is the decompression in space allows the intervertebral discs to fill with more water.This makes them larger and creates more space between each vertebra.

The NASA article also uses great imagery for the intervertebral discs in suggesting that they function like a spring with gravity compressing the spring into a tight coil.While we move throughout the day, we can imagine the springs in our spine uncoiling, stretching, and lengthening upward.This creates axial elongation which facilitates our ability to move out of our scoliotic pattern.It also places the body in its optimal position to increase freedom and efficient movement.

Glossary of terms

Axial elongation – lengthening of the spine .

Torsion – the action of twisting or the state of being twisted

Unfused segments – the parts of the spine that aren’t fused

Intervertebral discs – shock absorbing structure between each vertebra

Vertebra – one of 33 bony segments that form the spinal column