Your spine means a lot to you. It holds you up, let’s you bend over to pick up a penny and lean back to look up at the stars. It helps you to sway back and forth when you dance and to stand up tall when you walk down the street. The spine let’s gymnasts do backbends and runners go the distance. It holds up the weight of the head and serves as a conduit for signals from the brain that regulate nearly every body function and movement.
For all of the services that the spine offers to us, it’s essential that we take good care of it. Are you doing what you need to do for your spine?
Structure of the spine
The spinal column is a marvel of bioengineering, truly remarkable in its design and structure. Both strong and flexible, the backbone provides an incredible amount of versatility.
There are three basic parts the spinal column:
- Cervical (neck)
- Thoracic (chest/upper back)
- Lumbar (belly/lowerback)
Each of these three sections is gently curved and the total curve that they compose together is known as the “S” curve for their shape. This curve is essential, and helps the spine to offer it’s amazing shock absorption, balance and range of motion.
The spine itself is made up of 33 bones that fit together perfectly. Between them are discs filled with jelly-like tissue that cushion the bones. In the center is a hole through which runs the spinal cord, which sends out nerves between the bones that run to the entire body, sending nerve signals to entire body.
Tips to take care of your spine
Spinal health is important because it does affect every part of the body and also because for all of it’s marvelous structure, the spine is vulnerable to a myriad of problems. Taking care of it isn’t difficult, but it is essential.
To keep your spine working well, follow these tips.
- Wear good shoes for spine health
Good spinal support truly starts from the ground up. Whether you’re simply walking from one place to another or running a marathon, good shoes make a difference in the health of your lumbar spine. When you wear good shoes that provide the right kind of support, it helps to keep your spine in its proper alignment.
The right shoes for spinal support should:
- Fit the back of your heels snugly, but not overly tightly.
- Offer arch support to prevent the foot from rolling back and forth, straining the spine.
- Ideally offer some cushion to absorb some of the shock of movement.
Consider orthopedics or inserts in your shoes to help them fit the bill to give your spine what it needs. Often this alone can help to relieve lower back pain!
- Sleep smart for your spine
Letting your spine rest well while you’re sleeping will not only help you to improve your spinal health, it will also help you to get a better night’s sleep in general so that you feel rejuvenated after a night’s rest.
Sleeping smart for your spine includes two factors:
There are a wide variety of both that will let your spine rest while you’re sleeping. If you’re experiencing stiffness or discomfort after a night’s sleep, then it might really be time to update your pillows and mattress. Look for those that are specifically designed to offer improved spinal comfort, particularly when it comes to pillows as these can make all of the difference.
- Avoid sitting for long periods
Did you know that your lower spinal discs take on three times the pressure when you’re sitting than when you’re standing?
Long periods of sitting can cause serious problems for spinal health, aggravating back conditions and throwing the spine out of alignment. People tend to slouch and lean forward when sitting at desks, particularly when they’re tired or stressed.
Some ways to combat spinal strain if you have to sit for long periods of time:
- Get a supportive chair, a critical key to getting better alignment for the spine
- Start a regular Pilates practice, which improves posture and strengthens the muscles that support the spine.
- Move regularly, every twenty to thirty minutes, even if it’s just to stand up at your desk or to walk down the break room.
If you have a job that has you in a chair for long periods of time, be sure to pay attention and take care of your spine during those stretches. You’ll find that you think better, work better and feel better if you do!
- Strengthen the core
The core muscles, the ones that run around the center of the body, are an essential part of spinal health. Unfortunately they aren’t something that we generally build during everyday activities.
Specifically exercising the core muscles can offer some miraculous benefits for the spine, including:
- Improving spinal alignment.
- Relieving back pain.
- Promoting good posture.
The more you strengthen those core muscles, the lighter and easier your spine will feel. Pilates is a great way to strengthen the core in a balanced way, promoting increased support of the spinal column.
- Get a massage
Don’t think of it as indulgence, but rather as an important part of your health. There are so many reasons that a massage is great for you and for your spine.
Some benefits of massage for spinal health:
- Increased blood flow, bringing healthy nutrients that promote healing.
- Released endorphins, which will help to combat pain and even help to decrease the need for pain medication.
- Release tension in the muscles going to the spine, allowing for less strain.
If getting a regular massage with a therapist isn’t practical, consider getting a massage chair. While it won’t offer all of the same benefits as the hands on version, it’s still a great way to promote spinal health.
Preserving this natural structure of the spine is an integral philosophy of Pilates. That’s because the spinal health is a key to overall health. It’s a simple matter to take care of and support your spine, and doing so offers a tremendous amount of health benefits.