Spine Specialist’s Advice on Taking Care of Your Spine
Your spine consists of many bones, called vertebrae, which protect your spinal cord. Between each vertebra are discs which help absorb shock and give your spine flexibility. Your spinal cord is responsible for sending communication between your brain and your body. When your spine is damaged, pain is enhanced due to the additional nerves and impulses there. Talk to your spine specialist if you feel any pain in your back or neck.
Common triggers for spine pain include:
- Bulging, herniated or ruptured disks
- Overuse injuries
- Sprains, strains and fractures
- Spinal curvatures, including scoliosis
- Spinal stenosis
Spine specialists reveal that many spine-related problems develop slowly over time. They can also onset immediately following an injury, or pain may develop due to an underlying illness or disease. Regardless of how and when your discomfort started, the activities you do every day to keep your spine healthy and pain free are very important. Here are a few tips from the spine specialist that will keep you up and moving.
Exercise is the number one builder of muscle that will keep your spine safe and functional. The problem is, when you have spine pain, the last thing you want to do is exercise. Muscle spasms are a chief contributor to spine pain. Rest and activity restriction is the best medicine when having a spasm, say the spine specialists. But when you’re not in an active spasm, a simple daily regimen of stretches and exercises designed to strengthen back muscles and get your blood flowing is the best path to long-term spine health. Stretching and walking are great. Or try water aerobics to exercise while taking pressure off your spine.
A healthy diet plays a big role in spine health and is the best way to feed your body and control weight . Eat fresh wholesome foods. Processed foods and junk food that are high in sugar or fat can contribute to the inflammation in your spine. According to spine specialists, a healthy diet will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which ensures you aren’t overstressing your spine.
Physical therapy is similar to exercise in that it promotes muscle development, but physical therapy specifically targets the problem area(s) of your back. Physical therapy is great for conditions like bulging discs or sciatic pain, because it works to relieve compression or pressure in the area. Talk to your Spine specialist about specific physical therapy exercises you should begin for your condition, and don’t just do them during your session at the clinic. Make time to perform some low-impact physical therapy exercises each day.
Try these simple exercises:
- Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor or bed. Gently lift your buttocks a few inches off the floor toward the ceiling. Just a few inches! No more. Do 10 repetitions. Rest, and repeat for three sets. Do this each morning before you rise.
- Lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest. Gently roll side to side just a few inches to massage and stretch your lumbar back area.
- From a standing position, bend at the waist with your fingers reaching for the floor. Go only as far as your body naturally permits. Now just hang there – and breathe naturally for one minute. With each breath, let your back and legs relax and stretch. Do not actively reach or stretch for the floor. Let the weight of your upper body create the weight that naturally stretches your legs and back. After one minute, return to a standing position. Repeat three times.
Injections can be very helpful at calming pain from an irritated or compressed nerve. You and your doctor can decide what is best for you among a variety of available pain injections. You’ll need to pinpoint exactly to your Spine specialist about what is causing your pain before moving forward with an injection. Cortisone shots do not typically offer full relief but can provide short-term and some long-term relief depending on the cause of your pain.
If your back pain is the result of an alignment issue, massage may be able to help you realign your spine and avoid an unnecessary surgery. These therapy techniques can help with disc alignment issues and pinched nerves. Work with your spine specialist to determine the appropriateness of these remedies.
Whether it’s a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or strained muscles, it can take some time to diagnose and treat the causes of back pain. And all the while, you’re trying to navigate health insurance, work and family life, and everyday stressors in addition to your back pain.
Here are 5 key things you can do to help achieve more comfort and pain relief.
1. Let your spine really rest while sleeping.
While you’re lying down, all the structures in your spine that have worked hard all day finally have an opportunity to relax and be rejuvenated. To make the most of this time, you need a mattress and pillows that allow your spine to rest in a supported and comfortable way.
Some tips to consider when sleeping include:
- Use a firm or medium-firm mattress. Most people benefit from having a mattress that’s firm enough to support their spine, rather than an old or soft mattress that allows the spine to sag. As long as you’re choosing a mattress to ensure the best support and sleeping position for your condition, there are many available types that can be helpful.
- Keep your spine naturally aligned. For back sleepers, try placing a pillow beneath the knees to reduce stress on the lower back. For side sleepers, try placing a pillow between the knees to keep the hips balanced. Some people may also benefit from a neck pillow that supports the cervical spine. Experiment with a few different types of pillows to see what you find most comfortable.
2. Exercise your core to strengthen abs and back muscles.
Your core muscles—located in your lower back and abdomen—need to be strong and supple in order to support your spine and take pressure off your lower back.
Unfortunately, for most of us our core muscles are rarely used enough during everyday activities. These muscles need to be toned through specific, targeted exercises. Check with your doctor, physical therapist, or other health professional to learn which exercises may be appropriate for you.
3. Your shoes need to support your spine.
Whether you’re walking for exercise or just to get where you’re going, the shoes you wear play an important role in supporting your lower back. Good shoes provide a supportive base that helps the spine and body remain in alignment. For example, make sure the area of the shoe that fits the back of your heel is snug, but not overly tight. A good fit prevents over pronation or supination—or too much rolling of the foot to the outside or inside.
Also, consider using shoe orthotics or inserts if you need further balance or support.
4. Enjoy the benefits of massage.
A good back massage has a number of therapeutic benefits, such as increasing blood flow, loosening tight muscles and connective tissues, and boosting feelings of relaxation. While a massage does not need to be vigorous to be soothing, some evidence suggests that a moderate-level massage offers more stress-relief benefits than a light-touch massage.
5. Practice good ergonomics while sitting—and limit total sitting time.
The discs in your lower spine are loaded more while sitting than standing, so long periods of sitting can create or aggravate a painful back condition.4 Moreover, when sitting at a desk and/or looking at a computer screen, our natural tendency is to slouch and lean forward, stressing our lumbar discs even more.
Choosing the right office chair and practicing good posture while seated plays important roles in supporting the natural curves of your back.
It’s also important to do whatever you can to avoid sitting for long periods. Get up to stretch and walk around at least once an hour, try working at a standup desk intermittently during the day, or get up and pace around when talking on the phone. The spine is meant to move to stay healthy, and movement fuels the spine with healthy nutrients.
The topics covered here are simple ways to help support your spine and overall back health. Even when you are in serious pain and are undergoing extensive medical treatments, try to remember the simple things you can do for your back—even small changes can help with the healing process over time.