5 ways to keep your spine healthy and happy

If you’ve ever had back pain, you’ll know how debilitating it can be.

It makes sense right? Not only does our spine hold us up, but it is also the attachment point for many major muscles and ligaments, and it protects our spinal cord, where the nerves that supply every move we make, lives.

An irritated spine can result in a constant dull achy pain, sharp pain that feels like muscles are in spasm, headaches, jaw pain, or nerve pain that radiates down the back of the leg or into the arm.

When it comes to looking after ourselves and our health, it’s no secret that addressing spinal health should be a part of this.

Lucky for us, there are many things we can do (and not do) to help keep our spines healthy, and our bodies feeling young.

Here are 5 things you can do that will do just that.

1. Practice good posture – Our posture has a significant impact on the health of our spine. If we are slumped through the lower back, have rounded shoulders, and are carrying our heads forward, this can create a strain on our bodies that will almost always end in pain.

The thing I often say to my patients is you may not feel it now, but give it a few more years, and it will eventually manifest. Poor posture leads to increased pressures on the spinal joints causing wear and tear, and early onset degeneration. Practicing good posture minimizes this.

When standing ensure your shoulders are back and your head level. If you are in front of a computer, the top of your screen should be at eye level so you are not looking up or down. If working on one of the large screens that are now popular, make sure you adjust the eye target of your work so you are looking straight ahead.

When seated, ensure you have good support around your lumbar spine (lower back) so you are not slumping. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your hips and knees should be at 90 degrees when you are seated at a desk. Keep your weight in front of your sit bones. If you are prone to lounging on the couch at night time, just ensure you put a cushion behind your lower back, this will also minimize strain on the joints.

Whether you are standing or seated, avoid any of them for prolonged periods of time. The point of a stand/sit desk is to do both, not spend all your time in one position or the other.

Exercises like a seated row in the gym can help strengthen postural muscles, as well as a pec stretch in the doorway to open up the chest.

2. Core strength – often when we have injuries, although it seems like strain and overload tip us over the edge, it’s often an underlying weakness that is a major reason for the injury. Working on core strength activates the deep muscles around the spine, and helps minimize load on the joints.

Pilates or Physiocise are great options to help build core strength.

3. Movement – We all know we are designed to move. Movement is imperative. And the more we move, not only are we healthier, but we are happier too.

Some simple ways to increase your movement -

  • At least 30 minutes of exercise each day – walking, running, yoga, swimming, gym – whatever it looks like for you, as long as you are moving at a rate where you get the heart pumping a little more than normal.

  • Increase your incidental exercise - walking instead of taking public transport when you can, or taking the stairs.

  • When at work/at a desk, my rule is to get up every 30 minutes. This will not only have a positive effect on your energy levels, your mood, and your productivity, but it will result in less load on the joints, less stiffness, and less pain.

4. Stress relief

Stress can manifest in a multitude of ways, including tension in our muscles and increased load on our spines. It's not uncommon for us to hold stress and tension in our bodies – so anything we can do to minimize this will help lessen the load on the spine.

Some helpful stress relievers include

- Exercise

- Meditation

- Laughter and Joy

- Spending time with loved ones

- Massage

5. Regular soft tissue therapy

As mentioned at the beginning – there are many muscles and ligaments that attach to the spine. When our muscles are tight, our spines cannot move as well resulting in less blood flow, and poorer spinal health. On the other side of that, the more wear and tear our spine experiences, the tighter the muscles around the area become to protect the underlying joints.

So, is it the chicken or the egg? It’s both. And regular soft tissue therapy, or manual therapy to get the joints moving will ease tension, improve tissue health, and ultimately help you move better and feel better!

Our spines deserve more credit (and love) than they are given, so if we put in the work now to protect it and nourish it through movement, stress relief, muscle therapy, core strength, and looking after our posture, we can avoid greater stiffness and pain down the track.

As this is Spinal Health Week, put your spine at the top of your awareness. Think about your posture and movement, think about how you are using (and hopefully not abusing) your spine.

Both Osteopathy & Massage Therapy are ideal treatments to ensure you are connected to what is going on with your spine, and to keep it healthy!

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