4 Tips for a Healthy and Happy Spine
As the leading cause of years lived with disability since 1990, low back pain affects roughly 7.5% of the population worldwide, which is the equivalent of 577 million people. However, this is just one of the spine problems adults face, as other common spine conditions are herniated disc, sciatica, muscle strain, scoliosis, deformities, and spondylosis.
While the vast majority of these spine issues are preventable, they occur in more and more people, which is the consequence of ignoring the health of our spine. Taking good care of our spine should be taught since early childhood to avoid struggling with the burden of spine problems later in life.
Fortunately, there are numerous practical ways to ease your low back pain and alleviate the discomfort caused by other spine problems that you can start including in your routine right away. Although these important changes that you can make to your lifestyle will not cure your back problems, they can help with the symptoms and lead to a more comfortable life, as back pain can take a heavy toll on life quality. The following are four essential tips on how to better care for your spine so as to reduce the intensity of your symptoms. Nevertheless, these pieces of advice are for people who do not have issues with their spine too, as they can help prevent developing back problems.
1. Choose Your Mattress Carefully
Because the average person spends roughly 26 years of their life sleeping, choosing the mattress you rest on wisely is paramount. The most suitable mattresses for people who want to take good care of their spine are those with medium firmness, as they can properly support their spine, as opposed to soft mattresses, which contribute to chronic back pain and a misaligned spine. Another important factor when it comes to mattresses concerns how long you should use a mattress before purchasing a new one. You should change your mattress every 6-8 years, as old mattresses lose their firmness over time and cannot support your spine anymore.
As for your sleep position, if you struggle with spine issues, you should place a pillow beneath the knees if you sleep on your back to reduce the stress on your lower back. People who sleep on their side might benefit from placing a pillow between their knees to balance their hips. Some people might also benefit from a neck pillow that supports the cervical spine. You should experiment with pillows until you find what placement makes you comfortable during the night. Lastly, when switching to a new mattress, you should buy a memory foam or latex mattress, as they work best for back pain because they conform to your body, supporting your spine and keeping it aligned.
2. Strengthen Your Core Muscles to Benefit from Better Spine Support
The core muscles are in your abdomen and lower back and to properly support your spine and take pressure off your lower back, they have to be as strong as possible. Because our core muscles are rarely used enough during everyday activities, they need to be strengthened through specific, targeted exercises. Nonetheless, before engaging in any form of exercise, we suggest you ask your doctor for advice, as, depending on your spine issue, some types of workouts might not be suitable for you. Actually, they might worsen your symptoms.
Once you know which exercises you are allowed to do, it is important to make working out part of your daily routine. This is the only way you can keep your spine healthy or alleviate the symptoms of a back problem if you already have one. These are some of the most effective core exercises for your spine, suitable for beginners as well, but we cannot stress enough how important it is to not perform them without permission from your doctor:
- Transverse abdominal contraction: Start by lying on your back with both your knees bent, feet flat. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine, then hold 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times.
- March: Start by lying on the floor on your back with both knees bent, feet flat, then tighten your lower abdominals and pelvic floor by pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine and hold that position. Lift the left foot off the floor to a 90-degree angle. Return to the original position, then repeat with the right leg. Return to the start position and relax your abdominals. Repeat 10 times on each side.
- Dying bugs: Lie on your back with your arms straight up to the ceiling, and your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. Keeping your rib cage down, extend your opposite arm and leg out and take a deep breath out.
3. Pay Attention to Your Shoes
Whether you are walking to exercise or just to get where you have to go, the shoes you wear every day play a crucial role in supporting your lower back. High-quality shoes provide a supportive base that helps the spine and body align. For instance, make sure the shoe area that fits the back of your heel is snug but not extremely tight. The perfect fit prevents overpronation or supination or too much rolling of the foot to the outside or inside. Other important aspects you should consider when purchasing new shoes that must properly support your spine are moderate heel height, cushioning and shock absorption, rocker-bottom soles, and sandals with arch support, all of which are great for people with back problems.
On the other hand, you should always make sure you avoid the following types of shoes, as they will cause more damage to your back and increase your back pain over time:
- non-orthopedic flip-flops: although they are not good for your feet, they are acceptable for a quick walk, but they are not recommended as the footwear you wear the entire day
- too hard or too soft shoes: since you want some shock absorption in your shoes, it is best to avoid footwear that is too hard, as well as shoes with a memory foam cushion, because the latter do not offer the right support
- minimalist shoes: these are also known as "barefoot" because of their extremely thin soles and are not good for your back, as they will rotate your pelvis differently than shoes with a thicker sole
4. Limit Your Sitting Time and Have a Good Posture When You Have to Sit
There is more stress on the discs in your lower back while sitting than standing, which means that long periods of sitting can aggravate a painful back condition. Furthermore, when sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen or writing, your natural tendency is to lean forward, stressing the lumbar discs even more. Consequently, choosing the right office chair and practicing good posture play important roles in supporting the natural curves of your back. You should get up to stretch and walk around at least once every hour, try working at a standup desk, or pace around when talking on the phone.
The following is more valuable advice concerning your posture when sitting:
- sit up with your shoulders back and with your back straight, with your buttocks touching the back of your chair
- draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back, then hold for a few seconds
- sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely
- adjust your chair height so that you can sit up close to what you are working on and tilt it up toward you and rest your elbows on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed
- while sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, do not twist at the waist – instead, turn your whole body
Taking good care of your spine is of utmost importance, whether you want to prevent suffering from a back problem in the future or already struggle with one. Following the advice in this article might significantly ease your pain and discomfort caused by your spine condition. Moreover, we encourage you to visit a medical specialist if you have not done it yet, as there might be a more serious diagnosis behind your back pain that might need treatment. Timely and proper treatment often makes your symptoms barely noticeable or completely disappear. The spine is your body's central support structure, so it should be taken care of and protected to avoid serious problems as you age.