April is Spine Safety Month. Who knew? At miiSpine we focus on Spine Safety every month. Whether it’s counseling patients on ways to protect their spine or taking all possible measures to keep surgeries safe, we are on it!
Protecting the 25 bones of the spine requires a bit of work, but it’s worth it considering we are all living past our spine’s expiration date! Yes, while we are living into our 80’s, our poor spine starts wearing out as early as our 20s. It starts with the discs losing their sponginess. They become stiff and brittle leading to overgrowth of vertebral bones (bone spurs-ouch!). The extra bone growth can pinch nerves causing pain, numbness, and tingling all the way down to the toes. The pain from the aging spine leads to the oft heard lament in my clinic; “I thought these were supposed to be the Golden Years doc”.
While some component of spine degeneration is genetic (blame your parents), much is still manageable with healthy habits. No, there is not a magic pill or treatment to keep your spine safe. But if you follow these guidelines, you CAN protect your back and neck.
Guidelines You Can Follow To Protect Your Back and Neck
Eat healthy. It seems we are bombarded with nutritional advice everywhere. At the same time, we are tempted by an industry peddling yummy yet highly inflammatory food. All high sugar and highly processed foods cause inflammation in our bodies, which is the root cause of pain. Eating a whole food based diet is the best way to eliminate the nasty effects of inflammation. Better yet, eat a plant-based diet for the ultimate pain relief. I know, it’s hard to give up all that tasty food surrounding us on a daily basis. Give moderation a try. Limit the amount of red meat you eat to once a week. Save that sweet tooth for a Sunday treat only. For good measure try to limit wheat and dairy. I guarantee you will notice a difference in how those usual aches and pains feel.
Exercise more. How? What? When? Cardio? Weights? It can be very confusing if you go down the exercise rabbit hole. Know this. ANY EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOUR BACK. Don’t worry so much about what kind, just do something.
Avoid prolonged sitting. Have you heard sitting is the new smoking? Our sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for our backs. The sitting posture exerts extra pressure on the spine discs. Alternating sitting with standing is a good way to avoid prolonged damage to the spine. Sit/stand desks are widely available and recommended. An interesting finding is the Hadza tribe from Tanzania. This modern-day hunter gatherer tribe is as sedentary as typical Americans, yet they have much better health profiles. Why? They squat or kneel instead of sitting. It turns out, the muscle activity required to squat or kneel keeps the blood flowing, decreasing insulin resistance and lowering the bad cholesterol. I’m not recommending you start to squat at work but getting up frequently to do some air squats would be a good compromise.
Don’t smoke! The chemicals in tobacco as well as nicotine cause premature damage to the spinal discs. Smokers have twice as much back pain as non-smokers. Enough said.
Safety first. Try these suggestions for protecting your spine and I guarantee you will be more likely to avoid the agony of excruciating back pain. Prevention is the best medicine and is better than the magic pill or wand.