10 Tips for a Healthy Back and Strong Spine
Back pain can make you miserable. Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor these days. Are you doing all you can to keep your back strong and healthy and prevent those trips to the doc? Here are 10 tips to keep your spine healthy, and maintain a strong back to prevent unnecessary pain and discomfort.
- “Stand up straight”. We have all heard this from our mothers growing up, but mom knew what she was talking about. Correct posture can prevent most back issues. Stand tall, balanced, and aligned.
- Aerobic exercise. Staying healthy and fit will not only keep you strong and keep your cardiovascular system healthy, it will also help maintain proper weight and strong joints, both necessary for a healthy spine.
- Lift properly. When lifting heavy objects, kneel to lift the object, keeping the weight close to your body while using the legs to lift rather than the back. If the object is very heavy, ask for help!
- Learn to hold the phone properly. We all find it necessary to multi-task these days, but holding the phone to your ear with your shoulder puts a great deal of strain on your neck, shoulders, and spine. Use the speakerphone or hold the phone to your ear maintaining proper neck and head alignment while using the phone.
- Move around frequently. Sitting at a desk for extended periods of time puts us at a much greater risk for back trouble. The hip flexors become shortened, the spine, neck, and shoulders are hunched forward. The spine is in an unnatural position and the hamstrings and glutes become tight, pulling on the pelvis. These add up to a recipe for back pain. Get up and move around frequently. Try some shoulder rolls and stretch the back and neck.
- Stay hydrated. The vertebral discs are 88% water. Dehydration can lead to degeneration of the discs.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine restricts the flow of blood to the discs that cushion the vertebrae.
- Sleep properly. Not only is adequate sleep necessary to overall health, HOW you sleep is important for spinal health. If you sleep on your back, try placing a pillow under your knees to relieve the pressure on your spine. Even better, sleep on your side.
- Maintain flexibility. As mentioned before, tight hamstrings, shortened hip flexors, tight muscles in the chest, and a slouched posture can all lead to misalignment of the spine and back pain. Full range of motion of all the joints is important, particularly around the spine and pelvis.
- Strengthening exercises for the core. Maintaining a strong core is essential for a healthy back. Focus on exercising the abdominal wall (your “six-pack”), the back extensors and the internal and external oblique muscles. Below are 7 exercises and stretches to add to your daily routine. This routine will only take a few minutes, but will save you a lifetime of pain and discomfort.
Figure 4 Glute Stretch - Lying on your back, place one foot on the opposite knee. Pull the knee toward the chest to stretch the opposite hip. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with opposite leg.
Hamstring Stretch (using a towel) - Lying on your back, one knee bent with the foot on the ground. Place a towel under the opposite foot. Holding the towel in each hand, extend the foot in the air to stretch the back of the leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Repeat with opposite leg.
Chest/Upper body stretch on the Foam Roller. Lying on a foam roller (the roller is centered along the spine), extend arms directly to the side, allowing the shoulders to relax and the chest to stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds or more while taking relaxing deep breaths.
Bird Dog - On hands and knees, keeping neck in a neutral position with the spine, extend the right arm and the left leg. Hold for 3 seconds and return. Repeat with left arm and right leg. Continue alternating for 10-15 reps per side.
Plank - On forearms and toes, lift the body to maintain a strong plank position. Keep the abs tight, do not allow the hips to sag, keep head in a neutral position. Hold this for 30-60 seconds, maintaining proper form throughout.
I,Y,T,W - Lying face down on a mat, extend arms directly overhead. Lift head and chest (keeping head in alignment with the spine) while moving through the motions of “I” (directly overhead, “Y” (arms open slightly in a y position), “T” (arms are extended directly out to the side, and “W” (bend elbows, squeezing shoulder blades). For a more advanced movement, lift feet throughout the movement as well. Repeat the sequence for 6-10 reps, holding each position for 1-2 seconds.
Squat and Lift (with a bucket) - This exercise will not only strengthen the core, hips, and legs, it will also reinforce proper lifting form. Place a bucket on the floor. Stand directly behind the bucket. Squat (keeping weight in the heels and pressing hips back as though you are going to sit in a chair) to pick up the bucket. Keep the bucket close to the body while using the legs and hips to return to standing. Squat again to return the bucket to the floor. Continue for 10-15 reps. As you get stronger, add weight to the bucket (this can be weights, water bottles, anything – be creative).