Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Spine

In the United States alone, over 31 million people suffer from back or neck pain at any given time. Every year, about 50% of Americans report some form of back or neck pain. Within the last 5 years, about a third of Americans over the age of 18 have visited their primary care doctor with complaints of back pain.

People see their quality of life drastically diminish when they experience back or neck pain. They notice they do not enjoy their hobbies, or their favorite sports. The following are some more statistics regarding back pain.

  • 8 to 9 out of every 10 people will have back pain in their lifetime
  • Back pain is the #2 cause of visits to primary care physicians
  • Back pain is the #2 cause of Americans missing work.
  • Back pain is the leading cause of disability in adults 45 years old
  • Back pain is the 3rd leading cause of disability in patients 45-65 years old
  • Although these numbers are staggering, there really is good news too. By taking various simple steps now, we all can improve the health of our necks and backs and hence, decrease the chances of developing spine problems later in life. Remember the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to your neck and back, an ounce of prevention is significantly better than a ton of cure.

At the Spine Institute of Central Florida, our team is not just focused on your spinal condition, but we are committed to suggesting steps you can take to improve your spine’s overall health.

We hope that you will make these tips below part of your daily life, as these simple techniques will save your back unnecessary wear and tear.

Pay Attention to your Body: If something you are doing causes your back to hurt, stop to rest, or stop altogether. Whether it is a particular exercise, prolonged sitting, bending, or twisting, listen to your body’s signals. Pain is a warning. Discuss the activity with your doctor or physical therapist before proceeding.

Pay Attention to your Posture: Stand tall, and ensure you maintain a good posture. Try not to hunch while you stand or walk, since this exposes your back and neck muscles and ligaments to abnormal stresses. Hold your head up straight with your ears over the middle of your shoulders. Your shoulder blades should be pulled back and down. Your knees and back should be straight.

Take Care of your Spine at Work: When at work, ensure you follow these steps to ensure you are working smart:

  • Sit comfortably, with a neutral posture. Make sure your back is straight and well supported by your chair. Your feet should rest firmly on the ground. The angle behind your knees should be greater than 90 degrees, and the chair should not be pinching the back of your knees.
  • While working on the computer, your upper arms (you’re your elbow up) should rest close to your body in a relaxed manner, and your forearms (from your elbows down) should slightly angle down in order to rest on the keyboard. Your computer monitor should be positioned such that it is directly in front of you, so that you can keep your eyes looking forward. This position will eliminate any bending or twisting of your head to see your monitor.
  • While on the phone, do not hold your phone between your ear and your shoulder, as that position puts undue stress on your neck. Always sit straight, and use your hands to hold your phone to your ear, or buy a hands-free phone.

Lift Properly: Be sure to lift light and to lift properly. Our spine experiences a great amount of assault daily – everything we do results in some loading of the spine. The level of stress our spine experiences on a daily basis is proportional to the frequency of the loading, and the weight of the load. Each time we lift too much, or lift in an awkward manner, we greatly risk injuring our spine.

To diminish our chances of injury from lifting, we must observe the following:

  • If it seems too heavy, get help. Do not lift it all by yourself (even if you think you can).
  • Never lift at arms length; get close to the object you are lifting. The greater the distance of the object from your body, the more stress your spine experiences.
  • When picking up or lowering an object, ensure that you bend your hips and knees, so your arms are at the same level as the object you plan to lift.
  • Keep your back straight. Never lift with you knees straight, while either bending at the waist or hunching over.
  • Never make rapid, sharp movements, or jerking motions while lifting – be smooth.
  • Move your feet, and never twist your body while moving an object.

Sit and Sleep Comfortably: Be sure that your back and neck are properly supported when you sit or sleep. When you sit, make sure your lower back is supported. Talk to your health care provider about choosing an appropriate mattress and pillow. Remember that most of us spend a third of our lives in bed. A bad mattress or an unhealthy sleeping posture can cause back and neck pain. You can upset the alignment of your spine if a mattress is too soft, or overly firm. Sleeping on a large pillow should be avoided. Turn your mattress regularly to more evenly distribute the mattress wear, and hence provide a consistent support

Lose Weight: If your weight is causing excessive pressure to your spine, weight loss can reduce your discomfort.
Exercise Routinely: Even a few minutes of exercise daily can keep your neck and back healthy. You can be given an exercise routine that combines stretching, strengthening (with special focus on muscles in your back, abdomen and buttocks) and aerobic activities.
Avoid Osteoporosis: Talk with your physician about combating the affects of osteoporosis – bone thinning. Possible treatments include weight bearing exercise, adequate calcium and vitamin D, and hormone replacement therapies.