There are 4 key factors that play an important part in your spine’s health to keep your neck and back strong, healthy, flexible and happy.
Key factor #1: POSTURE.
I know this is not the first time you have heard this, but it needs to be said again and again as it is so critical to have good posture to have a healthy spine and it should be noted in sitting, standing, walking and sleeping so start taking notes of your posture at all times as we cannot change things what we don’t acknowledge or if we are not aware of it.
Think about this…if you are slouched in a seated position, your trunk collapsed downward, back rounded and shoulders forward you are putting a lot of stress directly to your low back causing pain and tension and over time of repeated bad posture it can contribute to Disc Problems, Sciatica, Nerve Pain, Radiculopathy, Chronic Pain, Stiffness and much more.
So for starters, the best thing to do to improve your posture immediately is to sit up tall as this increases your natural low back curve to alleviate pressure, shoulders slightly retracted, and PULL YOUR STOMACH MUSCLES IN (belly button pulled towards your back)and maintain muscle contraction throughout as this will start to strengthen the stomach muscles which will also start to support your back to build endurance and tolerance to decrease the risk for injury. Take notice that once you are sitting up tall with stomach pulled in tight, it is almost impossible to collapse down and slouch. Maintain this position in sitting, standing and walking and you will do your body good.
If you are a side sleeper, you can put a pillow between your legs to maintain good posture and alignment of your spine to avoid pinching of nerves at the low back and hip area. Also, while laying on your side, it is best to also sleep with the upper hand on your leg while the other hand can be under the pillow but do not put both hands under your pillow as you can pinch a nerve in your neck.
Pillows are also very important to take a look at to avoid irritating neck positions that will throw off your posture and alignment. For instance, make sure if you are sleeping on your back, that you do not use a high, fluffy pillow as the increased forward head will kink the neck and possibly give you a headache.
Key Factor #2: FLEXIBILITY AND STRETCHING
It is very important to keep your body flexible as your muscles are made to elongate, be flexible and relax. With a flexible spine, it will give you the freedom for greater movement and motion with less rigidity that can otherwise cause pain and injury.
Do NOT, under any circumstances exercise or stretch while any of your nerves and muscles are inflamed or swollen but you would want to calm it down a bit with anti-inflammatories, pain reliever, cold pack, seek Massage or Physical Therapy professionals and rest. Pain is a warning sign so please remember that taking pain meds is okay when you really need it but they do not heal the problem they mask the warning signs so it must be dealt with actively doing movements.
When appropriate, a good Stretching Exercise Program is a must to improve the flexibility of your spine. Simple stretches on a daily basis will help to improve movement and flexibility such as Single Knee To Chest Stretch, Hamstring Stretch, Lateral Ear To Shoulder Stretch to name a few.
Massage Therapy is a great discipline that can help to increase spine and muscle flexibility through increasing circulation, improved healthy blood flow, increase oxygen, decrease tightness, and promote relaxation and flexibility throughout. Keeping on a consistent massage schedule at least 1x/month is a great maintenance program to keep your muscles flexible, happy and relaxed.
Yoga is another form of discipline to increase flexibility of the spine. If you are just starting out make sure that when you are choosing a Yoga program to sign up for a beginners class and always move and stretch to what feels comfortable and within your tolerance. Never push into pain.
Pool Therapy is another form of movement to gain flexibility without the stress to your joints that may cause pain and limitations outside of the water.
Key Factor #3: STRENGTHENING
It is very important to strengthen your neck, back and the surrounding muscles of your body to gain strength, stability and endurance. Consistency is very important to seeing positive results as exercises should be done everyday initially to get to a maintenance level thereby eventually doing 2-3x per week.
The key to back health is in keeping it actively flexible and strong, or well supported by the stomach and back muscles. You may have to find that happy medium in between because increasing too much strength in one area will pull out and off set another so please keep that in mind.
Take for instance strengthening postural muscles doing Chin Tucks, Shoulder Retraction and Core muscle stabilization exercises will improve better alignment and strength against gravity to maintain proper position and eliminate irritation. Your body would be happy, happy, happy!
Each person is uniquely different in many areas. So never think what worked for someone else is going to work for you. You may have to build on someone else’s information and work it into your own, personal program. Seek the help you need from a professional.
Key Factor #4: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Drinking water everyday and staying well hydrated is critical in keeping your body running well and being healthy. You might want to consider this rule of thumb but it might not be for everybody as you really need to know your body. Take your body weight(100 lbs) and divide that in half (50 lbs) will give you how many ounces of water (50 ounces) you would need on a daily basis (6-7 glasses) especially if you are eliminating fluids by working hard at work or working out as you will want to up your water intake.
You will see the difference in how you feel by keeping your body hydrated.
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