5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy and Functional

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5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy and Functional

When it comes to understanding what it takes to nurture a healthy heart or lifestyle habits to keep your blood pressure or cholesterol within normal range, there are plenty of resources to guide you.

But what about your spine? If you count yourself among the up to 80% who experience chronic low back pain at some point in their lifetime, chances are you replayed ‘wish-I-would-have-known’ scenarios in your head hundreds of times. While many accidents may not be avoidable, are there simple things you can do to keep your spine in tip-top shape? Absolutely, says our own Neil Bhamb, MD, 

The role of a healthy spine
A great way to begin this topic is to acknowledge why the human spine is probably the most underrated part of the human body. This mechanical marvel combines 33-stacked vertebrae with about 220 ligaments, 100 joints, and 120 muscles to serve a chief role in your body’s musculoskeletal system to support your body and facilitate movement. But that’s not all.

Thirty-one pairs of nerves wind through the openings of the vertebrae that facilitate the spine’s equally important role in your central nervous system, linking your brain and spinal cord. When your spine is healthy, this connection ensures the optimal operation of your internal organs and systems and controls breathing, digestion, and your body chemistry, affecting everything from your mood to metabolism and growth.

1. Maintain muscle strength and stability

At the heart of maintaining a healthy spine is doing everything you can to avoid lumbar instability, which can lead to various painful conditions such as herniated discs and spondylolisthesis.

Targeted exercises and physical therapy treatment plans that focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles in the lower back and abdomen, known as your core muscles, are a great way to ward off lumbar instability. When your core muscles are strong and agile, they provide a strong foundation for your spine and ease pressure from your lower back. A win-win!

2. Practice good posture

Practicing good posture at all times, whether sitting, standing, or walking, and especially lifting, is another simple thing you can do to nurture a healthy spine. While good posture makes for a much more professional and graceful appearance than slouching, posture is so much more than aesthetics. 

It all comes down to the natural curves in the spine – the cervical or neck curve, the upper back curve or thoracic curve, and the low back curve, or lumbar curve. Good posture creates optimal alignment of the vertebrae, which results in balance in your spine and your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. When in proper balance, your weight gets distributed evenly, allowing you to perform tasks without stress or strain.

In contrast, poor posture may lead to lumbar spine instability, which can cause neck or back pain and exacerbate existing neck and back issues caused by degenerative disc problems.

3. Maintain a healthy weight

Not surprisingly, being overweight or obese not only can wreak havoc on your overall health but also your spine health. Excess weight essentially has a cascading effect on your spine, starting with changing your spine’s natural curves, affecting your posture, throwing off your weight distribution, and causing muscle and ligament strain. This scenario, a perfect storm for lumbar instability, increases your risk of disc problems like herniated discs.

4. Do not be a weekend warrior

From time to time, many of us take on too much too soon, whether we try to take on a new fitness program too quickly or we are enthusiastic about helping our best friend move into their first house. Ouch, our aching back!

Begin each physical activity with sufficient stretching exercises. Warming up and stretching your muscles prepares them. Similarly, establishing gradual benchmarks is prudent to step up a fitness program without causing excessive strain and stress to your spine.

5. Address back and neck pain

Pain is the body’s natural way of saying something isn’t operating as it should be. Do not ignore it. While you may experience mild muscle pain after shoveling snow or yard work, the pain or discomfort should subside after a few days and some self-care.

Contact your doctor if you have back pain for more than a couple of weeks or if the pain disrupts your routine activities. If you experience severe pain or a fever accompanying your back pain, seek medical care sooner.

If you suffer from back or neck pain, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Bhamb at our Century City or Marina Del Rey office. Call or book your appointment online today.