How is The Back Made Up?

Your spinal column provides support for your body. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand upright, bend or twist.



 Your spine consists of 33 bones (your vertebrae) linking your skull and pelvis. Each vertebra has 3 main components;

1.      The vertebral body at the back of the vertebrae which supports your body weight

2.     The vertebral arch at the front of the vertebrae which protects the spinal cord.

3.     The transverse and spinous processes which serve as sites for ligament attachment.

Facet joints connect the vertebrae and allow the bones to glide smoothly against each other. The joints contain synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant and protects against wear and tear.

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The Spine

The spinal column is made up of 4 different regions:

Cervical (neck)

Thoracic (chest)

Lumbar (low back)

Sacral (pelvic)

 The spine has a natural ‘S’ shaped curve when viewed from the side. The cervical and lumbar regions have a concave curve and the thoracic and sacral regions have a slight convex curve. These curves allow the spine to act like a spring, absorbing shock and maintaining balance.

 Running through the spinal column, protected by the bones, is the spinal cord. This is a cylinder of nerve tissue which connects your brain to the rest of your body, controlling your movement and keeping your organs functioning.


Intervertebral Discs

The vertebrae are separated by soft, fluid filled cushions called intervertebral discs, which sit between the bones. It’s their job to act as shock absorbers, protecting the vertebrae and spinal cord from injury and/or trauma

Your intervertebral discs have a tough outer fibrous ring called the anulus fibrosus which contains and protects an inner gel-like centre called the nucleus pulposus. The nucleus pulposus is made up predominantly of water which can move in and out of the disc through small pores as the disc is loaded and unloaded.


 A network of ligaments and muscles join everything together to form the spinal column.

 Ligaments are tough bands or sheets of connective tissue and link bones together. The spinal ligaments help stabilise the joints by restricting excessive movements and preventing movement in certain directions.


The muscles of the spine work together to support the trunk, protect the spine and hold your body upright. They also allow you to bend, twist and move in multiple directions.


The erector spinae group (above) are a set of muscles which work together to straighten the back and keep you upright. Running almost the full length of the spine, they are made up of The Iliocostal, Longissimus and Spinalis muscles and play an important part in posture and support of the spine.

Another significant muscle used in the stabilisation of the lumbar spine is the Multifidus muscle (left). Together with the transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles, it stabilises the low back and pelvis before movement of the arms and/or legs takes place.


The transverse abdominis muscle (right) is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and wraps around the trunk from front to back. In Addition to supporting the organs located in the trunk, it acts as girdle, stabilising the back and pelvis prior to movement of the body. 1 Likes

Facet joints are the bony protrusions at the back of the spine which join the vertebrae together.  They are the joints that make your back flexible and allow you to bend and twist.

The joints are lined with cartilage and lubricated by a substance called synovial fluid. When healthy, the bones move freely over each other without grinding.

Nerves pass through the joints from the spinal cord to on their way to the rest of the body.

Degenerative changes in the discs and subsequent thinning of discs can cause pressure on the facet joints, affecting how the joints line up. This added pressure causes wear and tear which eventually destroys the cartilage and fluid in the joint and causes the soft tissue surrounding the joint to swell.

As a result of this damage, the bones rub together. When this happens, the body tries to heal itself by building new bone which results in the formation of bone spurs, growths which protrude from the bone and can press on the nerves which pass through the joint.

There is an added risk that these bone spurs continue to grow and narrow the spinal canal.

When suffering from facet joint syndrome, movements such as bending backwards or twisting sideways towards the affected joint will cause pain.

Standing for long periods may make it worse and anything which takes the weight off the joint such as sitting or lying down can ease the pain.


Unpredictable pain, possibly scattered over a few months

Soreness when pressing on the area where pain is felt

Pain when leaning backwards

Pain when sitting for long periods

Causes/Contributing Factors

Wear and tear

The most common cause of facet joint syndrome is general wear and tear as part of the ageing process, resulting in a thinning of the cartilage between the joints.


Abnormal posture can place additional pressure on the facet joints, resulting in inflammation and pain.


When there has been a trauma, particularly a whiplash injury, the facet joints can become torn away from each other. This can damage the cartilage, as well as causing associated muscle stiffness and pain. In extreme cases, the facet joint can become dislocated.

If you think you may have Facet Joint Syndrome, strengthening the muscles in the back and core can help alleviate the pain and prevent future problems.

To speak to a back pain specialist about treatment, claim your complimentary ‘reduce back pain’ consultation, where you can discuss your back pain and receive advice on safe treatment for Facet Joint Syndrome.

To claim, enter your details below and we’ll be in touch to arrange your session.

The intervertebral discs are made up of a tough outer shell (Annulus Fibrosus) and a soft-jelly like substance (Nucleus Pulposus) contained within it. These discs separate the bones of the spine (the vertebrae) and act as shock absorbers, protecting the bones from things like lifting, twisting and impact.

When the outer shell becomes weak or torn, the inner substance can leak out. This is referred to a slipped or herniated disc. Sometimes the outer shell doesn’t tear but the inner substance causes it to protrude. This is referred to as a bulging or prolapsed disc.


Causes/Contributing Factors


As we age, discs can degenerate through wear and tear. This leaves them more vulnerable to tears and injury.


Smoking decreases blood flow to the discs. This leads to less-healthy discs and degeneration.


Discs can slip out of place if you lift with poor technique, move suddenly or twist and lift at the same time. Jobs requiring a lot of lifting put additional strain on the discs over time and can contribute to the risk of a slipped disc.


If you have an underlying weakness in your core or back muscles, there is less support for your spine which means it’s more vulnerable to injury as it’s less protected.


Painkillers and inflammatory medication can help with pain relief and reduce any swelling. In the first 48-72 hours, you can also ice the area to help with inflammation. Following 72 hours, heat treatments such as a warm bath or hot water bottle can help ease the pain and promote relaxation of your muscles.

It’s also important to work on your posture, maintaining the natural ‘s’ shape of your spine and avoiding slouching.

Exercises to strengthen the back and core muscles will also help. By working on the supporting muscles, your spine and discs will be under less pressure. Massage may also help by easing tension in the muscles.

To speak to a specialist therapist about the prevention and treatment of slipped discs, claim your complimentary ‘reduce back pain’ consultation, where you can discuss your back pain and receive advice on safe treatment for a slipped disc to avoid pain long-term.

To claim, enter your details below and we’ll be in touch to arrange your session.

With the approximate thickness of a pencil and running from the low back down to the feet, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body.

It originates in the lumbar (lower) and sacral (at the base) regions of the spine, travels through the muscles in the buttocks, branches out down the leg and attaches to the foot.

It can become irritated by muscles in its path – most commonly in the buttock or leg – tightening or going into spasm, or by a bulging or herniated disc in the low back pressing into it.

It is also associated with degeneration of the spine, or spinal stenosis, which causes a narrowing of the tunnel which the nerve passes through.

Signs you may be suffering with sciatica include:

·      Pain in the low back or buttock, travelling down into the leg and/or foot

·      Pins & needles in the leg or foot

·      Numbness in the leg or foot

Causes/Contributing Factors


As the bump grows, your centre of gravity shifts. This can lead to an increased arching of the back which in turn tilts the pelvis forwards. This can sometimes mean that the muscles in the buttocks tighten and pinch on the nerve.

Some women also find that the expanding uterus can press directly on the nerve towards the end of pregnancy, or even as the baby starts to move into position, it can sometimes rest on the nerve.

Slipped disc

A slipped or herniated disc is the most common cause of sciatica. It happens when the outer edge of the intervertebral disc ruptures and the inner jelly-like centre pushes out and presses on the sciatic nerve.

Sometimes the outer edge doesn’t break, but the disc protrudes. This is referred to as a bulging disc and can also put pressure on the nerve.

Disc degeneration/arthritis

As we age, our intervertebral discs may deteriorate. Over time (or sometimes due to injury), the disc can become arthritic, narrow or shrink. This can increase the risk of the disc rupturing and therefore potentially giving rise to sciatica (see above)

The degenerative process could also lead to the development of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the bone canal through which the sciatic nerve passes which in turn compresses the nerve.


Smoking has been associated with a higher risk of developing sciatica. This may be due to the reduced blood flow to the discs, leading to degeneration.


Excessive body weight places additional pressure on the back, increasing the rate of degeneration. This increased pressure also increases the risk of disc injuries.

Piriformis syndrome

The Piriformis muscle is located in the buttocks, near the top of the hip joint. The sciatic nerve passes through the Piriformis muscle and can be compressed if the muscle is tight or goes into spasm. This can be caused by prolonged sitting (particularly on hard surfaces), repetitive action during sports (i.e. football, running) or climbing stairs.


The type of treatment may vary according to the cause of pain, but will often focus on stretches and flexibility work to restore range of movement, reducing any inflammation and strengthening the back and core muscles to provide support to the spine and prevent the pain coming back.

The first port of call would be a consultation with a back pain specialist to assess your pain and investigate possible causes. From there, a tailored rehabilitation plan can be put in place to reduce your pain and prevent future attacks.

To book a complimentary consultation with a back specialist at Core Strength Studios to assess your sciatica, please complete the form below and we’ll be in touch to book your session.

Last weekend, Andy and I packed the kids and the dogs into the car and took ourselves off to Westonbirt Arboretum.  Nestled in the Cotswolds, it’s a lovely way to see the best of the gorgeous autumnal colours we get from nature this time of year. 

We were out for a good 4 hours, kids kicking up the leaves and dogs sniffing out new friends in the forest.  We were all exhausted by the time we got back.

According to research we can burn as many calories per mile brisk walking as we can jogging.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I do like to bang on about how we need to make exercise enjoyable to make it work and that the gym isn’t for everyone.

With this in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of great places to go in Bristol and beyond should you be one of the many who would much rather be out walking in the great outdoors than pounding on a treadmill in the gym.

Leigh Woods
Not far from the centre of Bristol, enjoy miles of paths to explore in these ancient woodlands, including an all-ability trail.

Blaise Castle Estate
As well as magnificent walks (downloadable from the site) the Estate is a great place to take the kids, with a great play area, picnic tables and cafe.

Blaise Castle, Bristol. Photo by  Ryan Searle  on  Unsplash .

Blaise Castle, Bristol. Photo by Ryan Searle on Unsplash.

Bristol and Bath Railway Path
Walk or cycle along this 13-mile stretch and take in some great scenery along the way.

Bath Skyline
6 Miles of way marked trails with magnificent views over the city of Bath

The Royal Crescent, Bath. Photo by  Michael D Beckwith  on  Unsplash .

The Royal Crescent, Bath. Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash.

Do you know of any other local places to enjoy a winter stroll? Feel free to add your places under comments 

I have had a few conversations recently with clients about the importance of resistance training. It often gets overlooked in favour of it’s sweatier counterpart, cardio, as that’s what we were always told to do to lose weight, right? In fact, you could be missing a trick by walking past the weights section as it turns out there’s much more to gain than bulging biceps…

1. Lift weights to lose fat

Muscle is your metabolic engine. The more we have, the higher our resting metabolic rate. You will literally burn more calories IN YOUR SLEEP. Remember, muscle weighs more than fat so please don’t get fixated on your scales weight, as they don’t know the difference between fat and muscle.

2. Feel the (after) burn

When we train cardio, our calorie burn is increased whilst we’re doing it, but when we train with weights, our calorie burn may not be as high during the session, but your metabolic rate will remain elevated hours after, as your body torches the calories as it repairs and strengthens your muscles. This sometimes referred to as the ‘after-burn’. Did someone say, ‘post workout pizza’?

3. Core blimey, is that a six-pack?

If you step away from the machines and focus on functional movements when strength training, not only will you be training the big guys you can see (pecs, quads, biceps etc) but unbeknownst to you, the little guys in your core will also be firing up to keep you balanced and stable. Think of it as a no-crunch ab workout. You’re welcome.

4. Protection, protection, protection

Think of your muscles as the scaffolding surrounding your skeleton. As well as moving your bones, your muscles also protect your joints. The stronger your muscles, the less vulnerable you are to injury. Simples. This leads nicely on to…

5. Dem bones

As we age (especially us females, sorry ladies), our bones lose density and become more susceptible to breaks. Any weight-bearing exercise can help maintain bone density. Aerobics-style classes and walking are great, and exercises such as squats, lunges and step-ups with added weight can increase bone density in the legs and hips. Not just for those of the older persuasion, bone density is at its highest between the ages of 20 and 30 so invest in the future, kids and do your squats.

With the Bristol Balloon Fiesta starting today, did you know that working on your back pain is a lot like flying a balloon? (bear with me, it’s less tenuous than it seems…)

1. Know the basics

Just like a balloon pilot needs to know about air pressure, density and wind, so you need to understand the basics of how to locate and activate your core, as it lays the foundation for all exercises you’ll do to strengthen your back.

In this clip, Sally explains how to get into the correct starting position for core work, and how to fire up your core muscles…

2. Understand the terminology

Although we try to help our clients with as little jargon as possible, there are certain phrases we teach you. By the end of your first session, just as the ballooning community throw around phrases like ‘envelope’, ‘parachute valve’ and ‘rip line’, so you’ll be familiar with what ‘fire up’, ‘table top’ and ‘glutes’ means.

3. Stay alert

During ascent, a pilot needs to stay alert and perform all their checks for the safety of the crew on board. Similarly, throughout an exercise, you need to keep in check, focus on maintaining your form and ensure that your core is engaged throughout.

Of course, your therapist will help you maintain your form and remind you to keep your core engaged, but this self-awareness is essential to practice maintaining good technique.

4. Protect yourself

Balloons are hot (who knew?) so the pilot should wear protective clothing and gloves. When you’re doing any activity which requires stabilisation from your back and core muscles, protect yourself by activating your core muscles to provide support to your spine, and your weaker muscles to stop your back ‘going’.

Think opening doors, loading the washing machine and picking up the kids. Sounds weird, but these are all triggers for back pain.

See, balloons and bad backs are more similar than you may think… and as a bonus, I now know A LOT about hot air balloons!