How Healthy is Your Spine?

How Healthy is Your Spine?

We all have one! Most people aren’t too aware of it until it starts to cause pain and discomfort either as a little daily niggle, stiffness…especially first thing in the morning, or as a full blown acute “back” injury

If you have ever experienced any of the above, you’ll know how debilitating it can be to have an unhealthy spine. Not just from a pain perspective but from a loss of functional mobility, in other words, being unable to do daily activities either effectively or at all.

A couple of simple example of this would be…

  • Being unable to bend over to put on your shoes and socks.
  • Not being able to turn your head to reverse the car.
  • Unable to stand for any length of time, at a party, or shopping.   

So here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself.

Are you proactive or reactive about your spine health?

Do you think about the long-term health of your spine and how your actions now will determine how well your spine will support your ability to move when you are older?

There is no doubt that your spine, like the rest of your body will degenerate as you age. But it doesn’t have to translate into a loss of function…if you put the time, effort and energy in to getting and maintaining spine health.

What is spine health?

  • Postural balance and strength

When the very deep postural muscles are weak, out of balance or dysfunctional due to an injury, it puts extra stress on the spine. Postural imbalances can take years to manifest in to discomfort or injury. Being proactive about postural strength and balance is the number one action people should take for a healthy spine. This is what Pilates does so beautifully and like no other exercise method.

  • Core strength

Most people think of core strength as abdominal strength, but it is in fact, the strength of the entire trunk and torso. Yes, your abdominal muscles are certainly a big part of it, but so are your spine muscles, shoulder and upper back, hip and butt muscles. When you have a strong core with postural balance, there is no stress or compensation in the spine, even when you sit at a desk for hours at a time. Sitting places an enormous amount of stress on the spine, as well as creating postural imbalances. (let’s save that one for another blog post!)

  • Flexibility

Some people do have more natural flexibility in the body and some people naturally have very tight and stiff bodies. Regardless, there is a level of flexibility that will provide function in the body and not cause pain, discomfort or injury. Tight muscles can pull the body in to postural imbalances, putting extra stress on the spine, like tight shoulder muscles putting stress on the neck. Again, it may take years before you feel any discomfort in your body. Don’t wait until you get to that point, a little bit of stretching every day is magic to your spine…and your mind.   

  • Mobility

Mobility is different from flexibility and refers to the joints having a functional range of movement and strength. Your spinal column has lots of wonderful little joints that love moving. Unfortunately in our sitting lifestyle, they don’t get the opportunity to do much moving and so your spine gets stiff, which leads to you being unable to move, which leads to more stiffness. Spine mobility should be one of the foundations of spine health.

  • Hydration

Your spine is like the rest of your body, made up of cells that require water on a daily basis. Without getting too technical, in between each vertebra are discs of spongy material that works to cushion any impact in the body. When they are not hydrated over a long period of time, they lose the sponginess and can dry out and start to get hairline cracks and can end up with a full on disc injury. Drink water for a healthy spine.

  • Nutrition

Yes nutrition! Again, the cells that make up your spine not only require water, they also require high quality nutrients. That means eating lean and clean food that supports and nourishes your body. The other aspect of nutrition is body fat and weight. If you are carrying excessive weight, especially around the torso, it will put extra load on the spine and inhibit your ability to develop effective core strength.

  • Daily activity

And finally, we get to daily activity. How much stress do you put your spine under each day? Sitting for long hours, picking up kids or shopping, moving heavy objects, having a physical job etc. Sure, we have to do these activities, but have you prepared your spine to deal with the stress and not compromise the long term health of it?

The bottom line is that you only get one spine, and the health of it is in your hands. A little bit of proactive care every day will keep you doing all the activities you love to do for as long as you want to do them.  

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