People spend a lot of time and money taking care of their body. Many people join gyms or fitness centers in an effort to get stronger and spend money on healthier, high-quality food.
A healthy lifestyle does require sacrifice and hard work, but when we stick to our goals, we feel better. In many ways, routine exercise and a balanced diet are the backbones of health and wellness.
But what about our actual backbone? In the conversation surrounding health and wellness, we can’t neglect the importance of spine health. Our movement and overall quality of life depend on it.
The Spine and Its Function
Millions of people visit their doctor’s office with pain complaints every year in the United States. By far, one of the most prevalent pain complaints is back pain, notably lower back pain.
This is not just true in the United States, lower back pain causes more global disability than any other condition. Unfortunately, back pain is often associated with the prevalence of opioid prescription, which can present its own unique challenges, namely dependency.
While chronic pain can have a variety of causes, from injury to spine conditions, spine health does have a big role to play.
The spine, sometimes referred to as the backbone, is the central support system of your body. It is composed of various structural segments and connects to your musculoskeletal system, helping keep you upright and mobile.
Let’s take a quick look at spine anatomy.
Your spinal column is composed of small bones called vertebrae stacked on top of one another (33 vertebrae in total). This column consists of five segments:
- Cervical spine (neck)
- Thoracic spine (middle back)
- Lumbar vertebrae (lower back)
- Sacrum (connects to the hips)
- Coccyx (tailbone)
Made of slick connective tissue or cartilage, spinal joints allow your vertebrae to move freely against one another. They help provide stability and flexibility in the spine.
Your spine also has flat, round cushions between your vertebrae. These are known as intervertebral discs. These act as shock absorbers for your spine. Herniated disks are a major culprit when it comes to chronic back pain.
Spinal Cord and Spinal Nerves
Housed within your spinal column, the spinal cord is composed of various branch nerves that travel from your brain down to your lower back. This relays messages between your muscles and your brain. In fact, issues with the sciatic nerve are another common reason for back pain complaints.
Ligaments and Muscles
Connected to the vertebrae are ligaments. Ligaments help stabilize the spine along with muscles that support the back and allow for movement.
Functions of a Healthy Spine
The spine is the starting point of most essential movements of the body. The spine has three primary functions:
- The spine protects your spinal cord and spinal nerve roots from injury.
- The spine provides the structural foundation to maintain balance and posture, especially in the upper body.
- The spine allows you to move and provides flexible motion for sitting, standing, twisting, walking, running, bending, and more.
In short, a healthy spine is essential for everyday life. This includes the mundane tasks of the day — and the fun ones. When it is injured, you can expect limited mobility and pain.
Taking Care of Your Spine
When spine issues arise, many people resort to chiropractic therapy or surgical treatment for treatment options. While chiropractic therapy does have its place, there are other ways to help keep your spine healthy.
Starts with Sleep
Restful sleep is an essential element to spine health. The demands of the day take a toll on your spine, and sleep allows it to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.
But sleep support is key. A medium-firm to firm supportive mattress usually allows proper support for the spine.
Sleep Posture is Important
Sleep posture is key for keeping your spine naturally and properly aligned, and sleeping the wrong way can take a toll. For back sleepers, try using a small pillow beneath your knees to help maintain proper form and alleviate stress on your lower back.
Side sleepers can do the same with a pillow between their knees to maintain a neutral spine. You should avoid stomach sleeping as it puts unnecessary stress and extra pressure on the spine.
Additionally, if you spend long periods sitting down, make sure to keep your body upright while sitting in order to maintain a straight spine.
Focus on Core Strength Exercises
A healthy spine starts with a strong core. Strong core muscles, composed of abdominal and back muscles, provide added stability and support for your spine.
Core strength exercises are often recommended for lower back pain because they can help your spine stay supported when you build strength. When exercising, make sure to stay properly hydrated, as hydration helps maintain soft tissue elasticity.
Spine health demands proper lifting. In fact, many back injuries occur from improper lifting. This applies to lifting weights at the gym and lifting in general. For everyday tasks, it is best to stand close to an object and use your legs to lift heavy objects rather than your back — head down, torso straight!
Stretching is often overlooked when it comes to spine health. But, the key to maintaining flexibility, comfort, and range of motion is regular stretching. Start small and build up. Never force your body into painful positions.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Excess weight adds a lot of strain and stress on our bodies due to gravity, and the same goes for our spine. In fact, excess weight can really take a toll on the lower back. Regular exercise and a healthy, well-balanced diet are always a good place to start.
Creating habits and goals for your health is essential. Most tend to start and stop at exercise and diet. But don’t forget about spine health.
The spine is the backbone of your body, literally. It can’t afford to be neglected. A healthy spine is the key to avoiding injury and maintaining a good quality of life.
Give your spine the attention it deserves.
The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study | NIH
Indication-Specific Opioid Prescribing Rates for Medicaid or Private Insurance | JAMA
Spinal Anatomy Center | Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar Spine Info | Spine Universe
Herniated Disc – Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatments | AANS
Good Sleeping Posture Helps Your Back | University of Rochester Medical Center
Why a Strong Core Can Help Reduce Low Back Pain | Cleveland Clinic