If you are experiencing back or neck pain, improving your spine health is probably at or near the top of your list of goals for 2015.
We have a few tips to help you reach this worthy goal.
Make patient education a priority
At Spine-health, we've always believed that knowledge is power for patients. The more you know about your condition(s), the more likely you are to have positive outcomes.
- Embrace the search engine. Use the Internet to research your condition, but make sure the articles you read are unbiased and peer-reviewed (reviewed by a doctor or an expert). As you conduct your search, pay attention to who is sponsoring the website or content, and read about the publisher to understand their motives behind the website.
- Don't be afraid to ask your doctor lots of questions. If your doctor or surgeon acts annoyed at your questions, it may be a sign that it's time to find a new one.
- Join our forums. While it's important to be aware that most members of our forums are patients (and not doctors), you can learn a lot and gain a lot of support by discussing your condition with people who know exactly what you are going through.
- Download our ebook on Amazon if you have a herniated disc. All the information you need will be right at your fingertips.
Be realistic and kind to yourself
- Develop a short list of goals and share it. A 2- or 3-point list focused on specific behaviors and goals is much easier to work with than a laundry list of wishes. Sharing your goals with people who can support them—your family, close friends, or a trainer—can function as a public declaration of your intent.
- Be realistic with time constraints. While it is important to set aside time each day to work toward your new goals, life’s surprises will inevitably intrude. Having a target range (e.g., 10 to 20 minutes of meditation 5 days a week) is not only more realistic than a firm benchmark, it avoids the feeling of defeat that comes with missing a day and ends so many good plans.
- Do regular progress checks, but don’t be obsessive. Checkpoints and milestones are necessary to chart progress, but being a slave to your goals can also backfire. A weekly or semi-weekly check-in usually is enough to keep on track and allow for natural fluctuations in your progress.
Include activities to improve physical and mental health
By now, most of us are aware of the strong connection between our state of mind and the health of our body. So it makes sense to have a plan designed to strengthen both physical and mental health, so that the benefits from each are mutually reinforcing.
- Try exercise that combines physical and mental dimensions. Not only does yoga (or other disciplines like tai chi or tae kwon do) promote strength and flexibility, it can help you focus on positive experiences and feelings that can override feelings of pain or anxiety.
- Monitor the impact exercise has on your mental health. The mental health benefits of physical exercise are well documented. Endorphins released through exercise provide natural pain relief, and physical fatigue can be an effective barrier to depression and insomnia, among other problems. Know what type and duration of exercise, including back exercises, works best for you by noting how you feel 30 to 60 minutes after your exercise session.
Focus on improving nutrition, rather than dieting
Losing weight plays a role in many New Year's resolutions, and it's true that excess weight can exacerbate back pain by adding stress on discs or nerves. Yet most experts believe that achieving a healthy weight, particularly for Americans, starts with rethinking what we eat and how we think about food.
- Can't cook? Take a class to learn how. A healthy diet depends not only on what you eat but knowing how to prepare it. You can socialize and learn how to minimize calories without sacrificing flavor and nutrition by joining a cooking class.
- "Go slow to stay low." Crash diets or fasting can yield quick results, but they can also be recipes for disaster because of the extreme impact they have on metabolism. Instead, experts advise making small, healthful changes (for example adding a piece of fruit to breakfast and starting dinner with a salad) that can be sustained over the long haul.
Be creative about getting exercise
One of the most significant changes in how physical fitness is talked about is the recognition that short sessions of low-impact exercise can add up to big improvements in health. While no one would argue against the benefits of going to the gym for an hour every day, setting aside that amount of time can be difficult for most people. Instead, find ways to exercise that fit in with your lifestyle.
- Volunteer for errands that are walkable. Can you walk to work, or the post office, or library? Studies show that 20 to 30 minutes of walking will maintain or improve cardiovascular health, and that three 10-minute brisk walks provide the same workout as a longer session.
- Use TV time as "floor time." Yes, floor time is usually thought of as play activities for little kids, but all of us can use the floor more productively. Using commercial breaks to do hamstring stretching exercises or sets of back strengthening exercises can get you off the couch and on the way to better health. Instead of wasting commercial breaks waiting, you can use them to your advantage!
All progress, no matter how small, toward better health should be celebrated. Incremental changes in diet and nutrition, as well as physical exercise and mental health care, add up to huge differences over weeks and months.
Visit our Wellness Center for more ideas on how to achieve your wellness goals.