Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Articles
How to Keep Your Spine Healthy
by Patricia Kowal, Licensed Acupuncturist in Noosa
Problems with back pain or other back related issues? This article focusses on keeping your spine healthy in order to prevent injuries and chronic pain from possibly developing later in life. By implementing reminders into your day, you may be able to improve posture, decrease back pain and prevent back injuries that cause long-term negative side effects.
Making an effort to maintain a healthy spine is frequently overlooked as part of healthy living. Acupuncture has become widely known for treating back pain. Approximately 80-90% of Americans have problems with back pain in their life. Individuals with a higher chance of suffering from back pain are: overweight men and women, smokers, frequent heavy lifting environments, and those with a previous back injury.
By simply educating yourself on the benefits of proper spinal health, you will notice improvements in mobility, more comfort throughout the day, less dependence on pain medications and the high costs of medical appointments.
Most patients argue, “I don’t have enough time”. If you take small steps to learn about standing and/or sitting postures, proper lifting and bending, you will prevent injuries, alleviate back pain and can look more confident.
Facts about your spine:
Basic anatomy of the spine: the spine has a natural “S” curve made of bones stacked on top of one another. Between the spinal bones are gel like “discs” (like small gel ice packs) that create padding for your spine to withstand your body weight and muscles attached to it. The discs naturally move in conjunction with the spinal bones, which is why paying attention to proper heavy lifting and postures is important. When a disc is displaced, many symptoms can develop including pinched nerves and extremely tight muscles.
While standing: your spine endures 100 percent of your body weight. For a 135-pound female, her spine will be holding up 135 pounds of pressure.
While sitting: your spine endures 120 percent of your body weight. For a 135-pound female, her spine will be holding up 162 pounds of pressure.
Pushing/Pulling: pushing is easier on your back than pulling. If you have the choice to push or pull, choose pushing and save yourself the possibility of injury.
9 tips to keep your spine healthy
These suggestions will help you avoid injuring your discs and spine. Implement them one at a time. Begin noticing a difference in your body and become of aware of the habits you’ve developed that may be causing you undue back pain. Don’t give up; small steps can lead you in the right direction. Why wait until you are in pain to correct your habits, it may be too late by then!
Move around! As you read above, sitting and standing is putting much pressure on your spine. Make sure you move around during the day and even better use exercise to increase circulation to the back muscles. Prolonged inactivity is seen as a major cause of back pain as it is putting much stress on the discs. Picture someone pushing down on the top of your spine for three hours! Get up and move!
Stagger your foot position when standing: while standing, notice how your feet are positioned. Position them one foot slightly in front of the other, not directly next to each other. By slightly staggering your stance, you decrease the amount of pressure on your lower back. You will have more comfort especially for longer periods of standing.
Pivot, don’t twist, when lifting: we all tend to twist at the waist when we are lifting, especially with heavier objects. Notice when you are twisting at the waist, and remind yourself to “pivot” with your feet instead. You’ll be able to change your habit once you are aware of your twisting tendencies. The first step is noticing when you are twisting; the second step is changing your tendency so that it becomes a healthy habit and a preventative tool to keep your spine healthy.
Hold objects close to your body: upon lifting heavier objects, keep the item close to your body, avoid holding them at arm’s length or away from you.
Maintain a neutral “S” curve position: remind yourself to keep the natural “S” curve of your spine throughout the day: sitting, lifting, standing and bending over. When you bend over try to keep the “S” curve of your spine by bending at the waist and bending your knees. You will notice it is more comfortable by using this method, and after implementing it into your habits you won’t have to remind yourself to bend at the knees, it will come naturally and greatly reduce your chances of back injury.
Use low back support, and keep your shoulders back: we tend to sit in chairs all day with minimal low back support, including our cars. Without low back support we roll our shoulders forward. It doesn’t take much to create a low back support: could be a molded lumbar support from the store, a small pillow, a folded blanket or pillowcase. By supporting the lower curvature of the spine and staying aware of holding your shoulders back, the muscles will be balanced one both sides of the spine. This creates improved posture, the appearance of looking taller, and more confidence. By exercising the “rhomboid” muscles in the upper area of your back, you will find it is easier to pull your shoulders back instead of feeling you have to force them to stay there. In fact, it’s a good idea to work these muscles regularly as you will benefit from strengthening them in the long run.
Maintain proper exercise posture: at the gym when we are lifting heavy weights or are feeling tired, we tend to roll our shoulders forward and slip into poor posture. Maintain the “S” curve in your back by slightly bending your knees, keeping your shoulders back and lightly tightening your abdominal muscles while working out. This will give your spine support, and lessen the stress on the bones, muscles and discs.
Remind yourself of ergonomics at your computer station: remember the basics of ergonomics while at the computer for long periods of time. Start correcting yourself when you notice lazy and poor posture, or starting to feel achy and tired. After awhile you will notice less instances of correcting your posture, it will become second nature. You will start to prefer a proper posture when you notice how much better you feel at the end of the day. If you are unsure about proper ergonomics, ask your employer about ergonomic equipment and postures that will help you in sitting for long periods of time.
Remember proper ways of bending: two basic types of bending we use daily. 1) Picking up something quickly from the floor: squat (even if you can’t squat deeply, at least bend your knees) then pick it up using a staggered stance, keeping the item close to your body. 2) Lifting items low to the ground: keeping a staggered stance, keep one heel firmly on the ground, bend knees (keeping the “S” curve) and bend at the waist to pick up the item. Keeping the same heel that is firmly on the ground, push up diagonally to stand.
Acupuncture may be used to help alleviate all types of pain, especially back pain. If you or someone you know are experiencing back pain and would like more information, contact me for your intial consult today!
Please follow up with your practitioner if you are unsure or are having questions about the information contained in this material.
Joel Kleinman, PT
American Chiropractic Association