Everyday Activities to Support your Spine
My practice brings in people from all walks of life who are struggling with neck and back pain. My urgent cases are with patients who have faced life-threatening accidents or have severe pain which impacts their ability to carry out their daily life activities. I also see patients who are more at risk for developing spinal injuries, such as athletes, people with degenerative disc disease, or those who lift heavy objects for a living. But sometimes, patients don’t fall into any of these categories, but are still struggling with spinal issues and injuries that could be prevented.
While there are many factors that affect the health of your spine, there are also a number of things you can do to support your spine and neck before you injure them, and to help you heal afterwards.
Exercise to Strengthen your Spine
While exercise is amazing for our bodies, not every exercise is created equal: some exercises are gentler on the spine, while others put more pressure on our bodies.
Lifting weights can be great for building muscle mass, which in turns helps build bone density. However, the chance of injury to your spine is greater when you are lifting heavier amounts of weight, or doing so with improper form.
Speed Walking and Jogging
Jogging is a terrific cardiovascular exercises, but it puts pressure on the discs as they absorb the shock from your feet constantly pounding the pavement. You might consider speed walking - something that just gets your heart pounding and body working up a sweat.
Pilates and Yoga
On the other hand, exercises that encourage proper posture while building your core, such as yoga and pilates, can go a long way in the health of your spine. Even basic stretching can keep your ligaments and muscles flexible, while sending more blood and nutrients throughout your spinal column. This helps keep your spinal cord healthy and helps to prevent injury.
Any Continuous Physical Activity
Additionally, walking is a terrific way to build your core muscles while improving posture. If you are recovering from an injury, walking in a pool is a smart way to get exercise while minimizing the pressure on your spine. You might also consider a standing desk - anything that gets you up and out of your seat.
Relaxation for Your Spine
Utilizing massages can help relax the tense muscles in the shoulders and neck. Additionally, massage can help restore your range of motion, increase proper posture, and help you heal from injury. Massages also provide for a great stress reliever. The only caveat: if you are seeing a massage therapist for back or neck pain, make sure to consult your doctor first.
Evaluate Everyday Habits
Everyday we face tasks that can be hard on our spines. For instance, improper lifting can cause a ruptured disc, or reaching in an incorrect manner can lead to cervical strains. Be mindful of the position of your body before you reach, grab, or try to lift something, particularly if it is heavy. Brace yourself if you don’t know how heavy an object is to avoid unexpected stress or strain.
Stop Sitting So Much
Our modern lifestyle, both at work and in the home, is inherently sedentary. When people sit too much, it leads to stress on the spine, including compression of the discs. This can cause pain and degeneration of the discs. When you must sit for a long time, like at an office or in front of a computer, take breaks to walk around every hour. Also, consider buying an ergonomic chair to support your body and spine.
Get Restful, Healthy Sleep
Many people sleep incorrectly. They either curl into a ball, sleep on too soft or hard of a mattress and pillow, or sleep on their stomachs. All of these things put incorrect pressure on the spine. They don’t allow for your back and neck to relax in the neutral position for restorative rest. Consider sleeping flat on your back with a supportive pillow, or on your side with a pillow between your legs.
Eat Your Way to Spinal Health
What you eat can impact the health of your spine. It’s true. There are obvious vitamins, like calcium, that contribute to the health of our bones. When our bodies lack calcium, we are more susceptible to things like osteoporosis, where your bones become so brittle they might break. This could lead to fractures of the vertebrae of the spine, which are quite painful.
However, without proper Vitamin D, your body can’t properly absorb this calcium. Vitamin D is a common deficiency in many people, as it isn’t found in that many foods. Healthy amounts of time in the sun, vitamin D-fortified foods, and even supplements help you get the proper dose.
Another important nutrient is magnesium, because it helps the muscles in your body contract and relax. Unfortunately, this too is a common deficiency amongst Americans, which can result in injury and back pain. Luckily, there are many foods you can eat to increase your magnesium intake, such as leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate.
Putting it all Together for Spinal Health
By keeping a healthy diet, getting restorative sleep, incorporating spine-healthy exercises, and taking time to stretch and relax, you are providing your spine the optimum conditions to stay healthy and free from injury.