A strong and supple spine can help make your activities of daily life more comfortable and less painful. Take time to treat your spine to several of these 11 indulgences and make your favorite ones a part of your everyday routine:
1. Make exercise a lifestyle
Exercise is essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy spine—and it can also aid in the rehabilitation of an injured spine.
You don’t need to be an expert in physical fitness to indulge your spine with regular exercise. A simple exercise program that focuses on stretching and strengthening the back, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles can go a long way toward 1 Gordon R, Bloxham S. A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare (Basel). 2016;4(2):22. Published 2016 Apr 25. doi:10.3390/healthcare4020022 :
- Distributing nutrients into your spinal discs and soft tissues
- Reducing inflammation and accelerating your healing process
- Keeping your muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy
While some people like to exercise in the morning, others prefer to work out in the evening. An initial period of trial and error will help you figure out the best time to exercise. Always remember to start slow and take guidance from a trained professional, if necessary.
2. Engage your mind
If you have chronic pain or discomfort that originates in your spine, take the time to engage in mindful meditation every day. While no single treatment option works for everyone, studies have shown that meditation is an effective tool for fighting chronic back pain. 2 Zeidan F, Vago DR. Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016;1373(1):114–127. doi:10.1111/nyas.13153 , 3 Banth S, Ardebil MD. Effectiveness of mindfulness meditation on pain and quality of life of patients with chronic low back pain. Int J Yoga. 2015;8(2):128–133. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4479890/
You don’t need a lot of time to meditate—a quiet room and 15 minutes are usually sufficient.
- While some people find a dark room is preferable, others lean more toward a sun-filled space.
- Some choose walking meditations, yet others find that meditating in a pleasant, relaxing place, such as on the beach or in their garden works better for them.
Ideally, a place where you feel carefree and comfortable tends to make it easier and more effective.
3. Reevaluate your sitting posture
Your spine has a series of natural curves, and if your sitting posture does not support these arches, over time, you may damage your sensitive spinal nerves. Sitting increases the load on your spinal discs by 40%—which may cause them to generate pain over time or herniate, causing spinal nerve inflammation or compression. 4 Amin RM, Andrade NS, Neuman BJ. Lumbar Disc Herniation. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2017;10(4):507–516. doi:10.1007/s12178-017-9441-4
If you have a job that involves a lot of sitting, take time to adjust your office chair and desk to make them ergonomically aligned to support your spine. Other options are to work at a stand-up desk or sit on an exercise ball for a portion of the day. It is also important to stretch and walk around every hour.
4. Go for a walk to help support your spine
The benefits of walking are plentiful, including 5 Lee JS, Kang SJ. The effects of strength exercise and walking on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. J Exerc Rehabil. 2016;12(5):463–470. Published 2016 Oct 31. doi:10.12965/jer.1632650.325 :
- Strengthening your core muscles that keep your body upright
- Nourishing your spinal soft tissues with necessary nutrients
- Increasing the flexibility of your spine
- Improving balance
- Strengthening your bone structure
If you're in pain, be sure to get clearance from your doctor before starting any new walking program. Often, a doctor's recommendation will be for you to walk as much as can be tolerated. If you are new to walking, or if you're dealing with pain, start out with a few short walks each day rather than a single long walk.
5. Soothe your pain with heat therapy
Applying heat to the muscles around your spine increases blood flow, which in turn brings healing nutrients to your muscles. Heat therapy can also reduce pain associated with the muscles and joints around your spine—and it may relieve your muscle spasms. 6 Freiwald J, Hoppe MW, Beermann W, Krajewski J, Baumgart C. Effects of supplemental heat therapy in multimodal treated chronic low back pain patients on strength and flexibility. Clinical Biomechanics. 2018;57:107-113. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2018.06.008 , 7 Dehghan M, Farahbod F. The efficacy of thermotherapy and cryotherapy on pain relief in patients with acute low back pain, a clinical trial study. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(9):LC01–LC4. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225921/
There are many options for the local application of heat therapy. You can try heating pads, heat wraps that adhere to your lower back and deliver a low level of heat over several hours, warm gel packs, hot water bottles, or a warm bath. 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.
6. Match your pillow to your sleeping position
When you lie down to sleep, use a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and lower back. Depending on your sleep position, you will need different kinds and placement of pillows.
- If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow to ensure your neck and head are positioned in the middle of your shoulders. Also, consider placing a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your lower spine.
- If you sleep on your back, use a medium thickness or flat pillow so that your neck is not propped up too high. Also, place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal curvature of your lower back.
As a general rule, avoid sleeping on your tummy or curling up too much in a fetal position as these positions can make your back more susceptible to injury and pain.
7. Choose your food wisely
Your daily diet plays an important role in maintaining the health of your spine. Try limiting your diet mostly to foods you would find in nature—vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains, and legumes, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Eating foods that are high in calcium and other nutrients and vitamins, such as oatmeal can help prevent spinal problems like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. 8 Price CT, Langford JR, Liporace FA. Essential Nutrients for Bone Health and a Review of their Availability in the Average North American Diet. Open Orthop J. 2012;6:143–149. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330619/
Eventually, try to eliminate processed foods, and make sure to limit unhealthy sweets to an occasional treat. When you eat a healthy diet, over time, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, reducing pressure on your spine and minimizing back pain.
8. Exercise in a pool
Exercising in a pool reduces the downward stress of gravity as the buoyancy of water helps to support your spine, thus reducing the risk of injury or pain when you exercise. Also, the viscosity of water provides gentle resistance through friction. 9 Shi Z, Zhou H, Lu L, et al. Aquatic Exercises in the Treatment of Low Back Pain. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 2018;97(2):116-122. doi:10.1097/phm.0000000000000801 If you don’t want to exercise, simply walk in the pool in waist-deep water to help strengthen your back.
Water therapy programs are usually taught in warm water, and many people find the warmth soothing on their joints.
9. Treat yourself to massage therapy
Studies show that massage therapy is an effective treatment for some types of back pain. Massages offer several potential benefits, including 10 Field T. Massage therapy research review. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2014;20(4):224–229. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5467308/ , 11 Koren Y, Kalichman L. Deep tissue massage: What are we talking about? Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2018;22(2):247-251. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.05.006 :
- Improving blood circulation for the recovery of sore muscles
- Restoring spinal range of motion
- Helping with insomnia
- Increasing your endorphin levels—the body's natural chemicals that boost your feel-good emotions
You can perform an easy DIY back massage at home using tennis balls or visit a local massage therapist certified in therapeutic massages, such as the deep tissue technique.
10. Resolve to quit smoking
Smoking increases your likelihood of developing degenerative spinal disorders and back pain by damaging the vascular structures of your spinal discs and joints. 12 Elmasry S, Asfour S, de Rivero Vaccari JP, Travascio F. Effects of Tobacco Smoking on the Degeneration of the Intervertebral Disc: A Finite Element Study. PLoS One. 2015;10(8):e0136137. Published 2015 Aug 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136137
Quitting is difficult, but there are many products, support groups, and strategies that have worked for thousands of people.
11. Lead with your hips while lifting
Lifting heavy items without supporting your spine can put your lower back muscles in abnormal positions that may lead to painful muscle strains. Additionally, unsupported lifting may cause your spinal joints to lock or your spinal discs to rupture.
Correct lifting involves more than just incorporating your knees. It’s best to lead with the hips rather than the shoulders and keep your chest forward while lifting heavy weights.
Pick a few of the above ideas for indulging your spine that you can easily incorporate into your daily life. Over time, even small changes to your daily routine will add up to provide meaningful and sustained pain relief.