11 Ways to Indulge Your Spine

Your spine is an intricate, important—and potentially painful—part of your body. Take a look at these 11 ideas to help you indulge and nourish your spine.

See Spinal Anatomy and Back Pain

Lumbar Spine Anatomy Vertebrae L1 through L5Our spines are made for movement. Watch: Lumbar Spine Anatomy Video

1. Make exercise a lifestyle.

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, hamstrings, 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

2. Engage your mind to help your spine.

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 play a role in helping you cope with pain.

See Modern Ideas: The Gate Control Theory of Chronic Pain

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Make the time to meditate every day. Read: Mindful Meditation vs. Chronic Pain

3. Reevaluate your sitting posture.

The spine has a series of natural curves, and slouching in a chair can over time lead to cumulative damage in affecting your sensitive spinal nerves.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

If you have a job that involves a lot of sitting, take time to make sure your office chair and desk are ergonomically aligned to support your spine. Consider working at a stand up desk or while sitting on an exercise ball for at least a portion of the day. Be sure and to get up and walk around and stretch every 30 minutes or so.

See Ergonomics of the Office and Workplace: An Overview

4. Walk as much as you can tolerate.

The benefits of walking are plentiful, including strengthening the core muscles that keep your body upright, nourishing spinal structures with necessary nutrients, improving flexibility, and strengthening your bone structure.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

If you're in pain, be sure to get clearance from your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Often, the doctor's recommendation will be to walk as much as tolerated. If you are new to walking or are dealing with pain, try to start out with several short walks each day rather than one longer one. Even walking for 5 or 10 minutes a few times a day is beneficial. If walking on land is too painful, you may find it easier to walk while in a pool, as the water will help keep pressure off your spine.

See Guidelines for Buying Walking Shoes

How to Make a Moist Heat PackA heating pad is easier to make than you think.
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Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack

5. Relax your back and neck muscles with soothing heat.

Applying heat to increases blood flow, which in turn brings healing nutrients to your painful back and joints. It can be an inexpensive, noninvasive way for you to reduce pain in your muscles and joints. Applying heat also will sooth painful muscle spasms.

See Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

There are many options for local application on heat therapy: heating pads, heat wraps that adhere to your lower back and deliver a low level of heat over several hours, warm gel packs, and hot water bottles. Some people find a hot bath most effective. Heat therapy is largely a matter of personal preference, so you may need to try a few options to see what works best for you.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

6. Match your pillow to your sleep position and preferences.

While pillow preference is largely a matter of personal preference, taking into consideration your spinal condition and your sleep position help better support your back and neck while you sleep. For example, if you sleep on your stomach be sure to place a relatively flat pillow, or a folded up towel, beneath your hips to better support the joints and nerves in your lower back.

See Choosing the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain and Pillow Support and Comfort

7. Choose your food wisely.

Your daily diet and nutrition intake plays a role in your spine health. Try sticking mostly to foods you would find in nature—like vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains, and legumes. Eventually make it your goal to eliminate processed foods and limit unhealthy treats to an occasional indulgence.

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 weightcan reduce pressure on the spine and minimize back pain.

For more information, visit our health center on Nutrition, Diet and Weight Loss

Older adults doing water therapy in a pool Exercising in a pool can help reduce stress on joints and bones.
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Water Therapy Exercises

8. Let the water support you.

Exercising in a pool reduces the downward stress of gravity and allows the water to support your bones and joints. Buoyancy provides both mild resistance and support, thus reducing the risk of injury or pain during certain exercises.

Water therapy programs are usually taught in warm water, and many people find the warmth quite soothing on their joints.

For more information, get immersed in the following Water Therapy Exercise Program

9. Treat yourself to massage therapy.

Studies show that massage therapy is a legitimate treatment for some types of back pain. Massages offer several potential 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 boost your feel-good emotions.

See Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain

10. Resolve to quit smoking.

Quitting smoking reduces the likelihood of lower back pain, which studies have shown leads to degenerative spinal disorders and back pain as a result of damaging the vascular structures of spinal discs and joints.

See Resources to Help Quit Smoking

Resolving to quit is difficult, but there are many products, support groups, and strategies that have worked for thousands of people.

See why quitting smoking is a must do for the spine: Quitting Smoking: A Must for People with Back Pain Video

11. Lift correctly.

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.

See Bodybuilding, Weightlifting and Back Pain

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 Avoid Back Injury with the Right Lifting Techniques?

With all these suggestions in mind, pick one or two of the above ideas that speak to you and see if you can incorporate them into your daily life. Over time, even small changes in your daily routine will add up to provide meaningful and sustained pain relief.

Learn more:

Exercise and Back Pain

Pain Management for Chronic Back Pain

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