Flat spine and back pain

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I have a student who has experienced back pain. Here is her mother’s description of what the doctor said about her x-rays: “She has a reverse curve shape of the bone structure in her neck. There is definitely a narrowing of the spaces between the vertebrae at the base of the neck. There might be bone fusion that has already occurred. She has been having lower back pain and may have some narrowed spaces in the lower lumbar also.”

What does this mean for her dancing? What may I be doing as her teacher to help warm up her body before ballet? What do I need to be careful of? She is doing Cecchetti level 6 work.

Thanks! Carroll

I’m always so appreciative of teachers who ask questions – and wonder why? It’s those questions that started me on my own path – having students come up and say, my right knee bothers me when I’m doing plié in 5th – why? My left arabesque is higher than my right – why?

We know the spine is composed of 3 curves. At the neck and lower back areas the curve goes forward towards the front of the body, and in the chest area it curves towards the back of the body. These curves are essential for shock absorption.

I have seen young ballerinas work hard to make their neck absolutely flat. The center of their ear is just behind the middle of their shoulder. Flattening the neck creates a flattening response in the rest of the spine – similarly – flattening the lower back will often create flattening of the curves above it.

All bodies, including the prepubescent ballet body, should have curves to it. The buttocks should round slightly behind the lower back. As the x-ray report states, decreasing the curves of the spine will decrease the spaces between the vertebrae. This isn’t good.

Okay – we’ve established the fact that you need to have curves in your spine. Now how do you help her as her teacher? I would begin by putting her on the floor or mat and having her feel how there is space between her neck and her lower back and the floor. Her first impulse will be to flatten those areas. Then I would bring her up to standing and place her against the wall with her buttocks lightly touching and nothing else – so she again can have some feedback of what it feels like to have a natural curve in those areas. (decreased curve)

Warming up before class would focus on releasing tension. Watch her carefully for straining and pushing to put her body ‘in alignment’. Easy spinal swings, relaxing over a physioball (on her back as well as on her stomach) will feel good. I’m assuming that her physician has put her in physical therapy and she has exercises to do to help redevelop the natural curves to the spine.

Most of all – be aware of her standing stiffly, pulling her head back and up. The other pattern will be tucking under the pelvis. I’m not sure which end of the spine is more the culprit for her – but I imagine you have some ideas from being her teacher!

Having her discomfort decrease will be postive indicators that you are on the right track!

Warm regards,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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