What a Greek god and a pachyderm have to do with your back
I am always trying to shake things up a bit when it comes to educating people about spine health. But in this case, I think I've found two totally appropriate comparisons, especially for women, because I think you can really relate.
The first is Atlas. Do you know his story? In Greek mythology Atlas is the god who was punished by Zeus, the ruler of the gods, and forced to carry the whole world on his back. You may have heard about him, but did you know there’s even a spine anatomy term named after Atlas? It’s true. The “Atlas” is the first cervical vertebra, or bone in your spine. It is so named because it supports the important features of your body’s world – your skull and your brain. Combined with Axis (your second vertebra, just below Atlas), these two incredible structures form the joint that connects your skull to your spine and together are responsible for your ability to nod and rotate your head.
I bet there’s another way you relate to Atlas, and it has quite a bit to do with your spine health too. It’s stress. You’ve heard that age-old expression about “carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders,” right? It’s an appropriate analogy. Mental and emotional stress often feel like burdens that are actually and physically weighing you down; punishing you the way Zeus punished Atlas. And that can absolutely have a negative effect on your spine. Stress often causes tension in the muscles surrounding the spine and that tension can result in back pain. This may seem like old news to you, but sometimes reframing the way we think about our spines can go a long way toward protecting them from future injury.
One of the most important ways to protect your spine against injury is to train it. That’s where the elephant comes in. You’ve probably heard that elephants are known for having really great memories. That has to do with how their brains are structured. Denser than the human brain, the temporal lobes, which are the brain’s memory centers, are more developed in elephants than in humans. Try thinking of your spine as the elephant of your body. It has a great memory. From a prevention perspective, that’s a really good thing. Strengthening and stretching exercises as well as good posture can all set your spine up for fantastic health now and in the future. But for better or worse, because your spine has such a strong memory, back pain can sometimes hang around for longer than it should. Even after the cause of the back pain has been treated and corrected, the pain can linger. The good news? With time and in some cases expert treatment from a spine specialist, you can “re-train” your back to be an elephant with good memories, not bad ones.
When it comes to most things in life, a fresh outlook is often useful. While you may not have previously thought about the Atlas and the elephant in your spine, I hope the new perspective is helpful to you. When you can help it, try not to overload Atlas. Carrying around your skull and brain, he’s got a big enough job already. Also, give your elephant the good memories it needs to carry you happy, healthy and pain-free through life. There you have it: an unusual recipe for a healthy spine.