Taking care of your back before serious problems arise is easier than you think. We have 11 ideas to help you give your spine the special treatment it deserves.
Make exercise a daily ritual
Research has consistently shown that exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy spine, and it helps rehabilitate injured spines. Our spines are made for movement, and even a simple exercise program that focuses on stretching and strengthening the back, hamstring, and abdominals can go a long way toward distributing nutrients into the spinal discs and soft tissues, accelerating the healing process, and keeping the discs, muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy.
- For more information, visit our Exercise Health Center.
Believe in the mind body connection
Take time to engage in mindful-meditation every day. Studies have shown this to be an effective tool for fighting chronic back pain. While the mechanism of pain perception is still a fairly mysterious topic, being able to tap into the mind-body connection may help you cope with pain.
Maintain good posture while sitting
The spine is naturally built to curve, but slouching in a chair for eight hours a day at work can lead to muscle tension and lower back pain, and leg pain (sciatica).
As the discs in the lumbar spine (lower back) are already loaded three times more while sitting than standing, why make things even more difficult? Be sure to have an ergonomically-friendly office chair setup and to get up and stretch every 30 minutes or so.
- For more information on preventing bad posture from becoming a habit and incorporating the right posture while not only sitting but walking, driving, standing, and lifting, see these Guidelines to Improve Posture.
Choose shoes wisely
The benefits of walking for the spine are plentiful, including strengthening the muscles that keep the body upright, nourishing spinal structures with necessary nutrients, improving flexibility, and strengthening the bones.
While walking, it's important to have a flexible, comfortable pair of shoes that also serves as a stable base for the spine to stay in alignment.
- Here are some Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes
Relax with heat therapy
Naturally your neck and back may feel sore at the end of a long day. Applying heat therapy is a great way not only to soothe spinal discomfort but to kick back and relax prior to going to sleep.
Try heating pads, wraps, warm gel packs, hot water bottles, or a bath/shower to benefit from heat therapy.
Sleep on a supportive mattress and pillow
In ideal circumstances, nearly a 1/3 of the day is spent sleeping, which also serves as a time for the spine to rest after a hard day's work. Still, an insufficient mattress can make rest a stressful time on the spine, and lead to some patients complaining of a stiff neck or back ache in the morning.
While sleep comfort is a matter of personal preference, taking into consideration a mattress that allows for correct support and sleeping positions can go a long way towards avoiding pain in the back and neck (cervical spine).
Choose your food wisely
Your diet can make or break your overall health, and it can have an especially big impact on your spine health. Try sticking mostly to whole foods-foods you would find in nature- like vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats, grains, and legumes. Eventually make it your goal to eliminate all processed foods, and to only indulge in unhealthy treats once or twice a week.
Focusing on foods that are high in calcium (for bone strength and mass) and other nutrients and vitamins can help prevent osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and other conditions in the future. Similarly, maintaining a proper weight can reduce pressure on the spine and minimize back pain.
- For more information, visit our health center on Nutrition, Diet and Weight Loss.
Go for a swim
Water therapy is especially advantageous for the spine because of the support the water gives to bones and joints during exercise. Buoyancy provides both mild resistance and support, thus reducing the risk of injury or pain during certain exercises.
Cold water soothes joint inflammation, while hot water stimulates circulation for stiff muscles and healing for minor muscle sprains or strains.
- For more information, get immersed in the following Water Therapy Exercise Program.
Literally Treat Yourself to Massage Therapy
Studies show that massage therapy is a legitimate treatment for some back pain. Massages offer several benefits, including improving blood circulation for the recovery of sore muscles, restoring spinal range of motion, helping with insomnia, and upping endorphins - the body's natural chemicals that make patients feel good.
Resolve to quit smoking
Quitting smoking reduces the likelihood of lower back pain, which is reportedly 300 percent more likely in smokers than non-smokers. Resolving to quit is difficult, but there are many products, support groups, and strategies that have worked for thousands of people.
According to one study, smoking leads to degenerative spinal disorders and back pain as a result of damaging the vascular structures of spinal discs and joints.
- See why quitting smoking is a must-do for the spine in the following video: Stop Smoking!
Improperly lifting heavy items can put the lower back muscles in abnormal positions that can produce painful muscle strains, and even cause the spinal joints to lock and the spinal discs to rupture.
Correct lifting is more than involving the knees, and should incorporate keeping the chest forward and the weight close to the body, and leading with the hips rather than the shoulders.
- Do you practice the right lifting techniques?
With all these suggestions in mind, what better day than today to start getting active and making these changes!