Maintaining Spine Health

There are many things you can do to help minimize the wear and tear that often results in back pain. Follow these recommendations for maintaining better back health and preventing injury:

  • Establish a regular exercise program to keep muscles strong
  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid additional strain on your back
  • Learn and use proper technique when lifting
  • Use proper posture
How would you like to make yourself look taller and improve your physique in just seconds? Would you like to do something for your body that will improve your circulation and ease your breathing? Want to relieve stress in your back? Well, you can realize all of these benefits and more – within seconds – if you simply practice good posture.

Good posture makes one look taller, slimmer and more confident. From a health perspective, correct posture has been shown to speed recovery from episodes of low-back pain and help prevent recurrence. In fact, there may be nothing more important than good posture to prevent many aches and pains resulting from undue stress on joints and muscles.

According to Alan McGee, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon with SpineONE, most back problems are gradual and stem from years of poor posture. “Most people don’t think about back safety during their everyday routines, but the majority of back problems evolve gradually as a result of slouching and other types of poor posture,” he said. “It’s not one particular event that throws a disc out, even though it appears that way. Because of years of abuse, that disc was ready to go.”

Correct posture isn’t something that comes easily for most people. In fact, even when people try to maintain correct posture, they often times assume the position of a soldier standing at attention – which Dr. McGee says is incorrect.

“People are often taught to stand up straight, with their chest out and shoulders back,” he said. “However, the military stance isn’t natural. It exaggerates the forward curve in the lower back and can lead to swayback. Swayback puts stress in the lumbar area, which can cause herniation and sciatic pain.”

So what is correct posture? First, take a look in a full-length mirror. When standing, your head should be over your shoulders, which should not be thrown back. There should be a natural curve to your lower back; your pelvis should be level; and your abdomen should be pulled in. Straighten your knees, but don’t lock them. Finally, your weight should be equally distributed on both legs.

To check the natural curve of your spine, stand with your back, head, shoulders, buttocks and heels flat against the wall. There should be enough room for you to slide your fingers between your midback and the wall, but there shouldn’t be enough room for you to move your entire hand through that area.

If there is enough room to move your hand through, readjust your stance in an attempt to reduce the gap. Move your feet forward so that your back can slide down the wall. Next, rotate your pelvis backward and tighten your abdominal muscles. Slide back up the wall. The space between your back and the wall should be smaller.

Of course, we don’t stand all of the time, and correct posture is equally important when walking or sitting. When walking, take steps of equal length and make sure you have a heel-to-toe gait. Bend your knees and swing your arms naturally at your sides. Again, watch yourself in a mirror to ensure proper posture.

Sitting creates or aggravates more back problems than standing or lying down do. To sit properly, your bottom should be planted squarely on the seat, and your abdominals should be pulled in to help keep your lower back straight. If possible, your feet should touch the floor. Footstools also allow you to sit tall and relieve pressure from the backs of your thighs. Avoid slouching, leaning forward or crossing your legs. Crossing your legs is not only a posture no-no – it can also lead to varicose veins.

Even if you maintain ideal posture while sitting and standing, you’ll help your body if you take periodic breaks during the day and assume a completely different position. For example, if you work at a desk all day, go for a walk around your office building – or around the block – every couple of hours. When you get home, lay on the couch for 10 minutes with your feet and legs propped up.

If you’ve been practicing poor posture your entire life, it can be difficult not only to determine what correct posture is, but to maintain that correct posture. You may even want to discuss your posture with your physician at your next office visit.

The good news is that, before long, as practice becomes habit, you won’t have to remind yourself to maintain correct posture – it will become second nature!