Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Exercise Regularly to Improve Overall Health
To stay healthy, your spine needs a regular regimen of stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning exercises, such as swimming, yoga, light weights and walking. Without exercise, your muscles can become weak and de-conditioned, which can lead to back pain and injury. Work with a spine specialist to find the right exercises to help you stay healthy, strong, stress and pain-free.
Do Not Smoke
Many spine experts report that smokers are prone to more back pain than nonsmokers. It is believed that smoking restricts blood flow to the discs that cushion your vertebrae, reduces calcium absorption and prevents new bone growth. Many spine surgeons are reluctant to perform certain surgeries, such as a spinal fusion on patients who smoke because it smoking may prevent or slow healing.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Extra weight, particularly in the mid-section or belly, shifts your body’s center of gravity forward and places additional strain on your back muscles and the surrounding tissues. It also is possible to be too thin, as extreme thinness can be accompanied by low bone mass and place you at risk for osteoporosis. We recommend working with your doctor to determine your ideal body weight and try and staying within 10 pounds of that weight.
Keep your Core Muscles Strong
Weak or tight “core” (back and abdominal) muscles cannot support your back properly, which can lead to pain and increase injury risk. Work with a spine specialist to find exercises that stretch and strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, such as yoga or Pilates.
Proper Body Mechanics
If you must lift or move something heavy do it safely. Find a partner to share the load. Instead of pulling or lifting a heavy object, push it. To reduce stress on the lower spine and reduce injuries, squat close to the object, keep its weight close to your body and keep your back straight and head up—do not bend over to lift.
There is a strong connection between stress and back pain. The “fight or flight” response our body has to stress can cause back muscles to tighten or spasm painfully. It’s critical to reduce stress as much as possible, even if it means turning off the smartphone after work, seeing a therapist, learning relaxation techniques or exercising more regularly. By managing stress well, you may help prevent back pain from occurring in the first place.
Because the spine has 33 of the body’s 206 bones, back health is linked to our overall bone health. To reduce the chance of your bones thinning (osteoporosis), check with your health provider or spine specialist about how much bone-building calcium and Vitamin D you need. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, yoga and lifting light weights will create forces on the bone that trigger increased bone density, which is beneficial.
If you work hard Monday through Friday, do not declare “war” on your back by doing intense exercise or household chores on the weekend. You’re likely to end up calling in sick in on Monday because of painful muscle strain. Your best bet to stay healthy and pain-free is to pace yourself throughout the week to handle your chores and exercise. A regular routine of stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning is better for your back than a single burst of intense exercise.
Source: “9 for Spine” Member Survey, North American Spine Society, 2012