VALENSPINE’S DAY NEWS
We remember to look after our loved ones on Valentine’s Day but too often we forget to look after our own selves and in particular our spines. We should actually look after our spines every day – and we can by doing some very simple things regularly. By understanding what are our potentially bad habits, we can then replace them with good ones – good luck and if you need any help, please call one of us at the clinic.
Small improvements every day help to keep us painfree but equally if we ignore our spine, bad habits irritate and cause overload of ligaments and weakening of muscles and we start to feel discomfort more and more often.
We can make small changes but regularly throughout the day and make a huge difference to our spinal health.
Here are a few things to consider to help keep our spines happy –
1. How do you sleep? Is it the best position for your spine?
When we are young it doesn’t matter too much how we sleep. The older we get the more health issues we develop and therefore sleep position can matter more.
Sleep is essential for our wellbeing but every night some people go to bed feeling fine but awake with spinal pain or go to bed with a degree of pain and wake with worse pain.
Why this may be has been open to discussion. During the day when we are upright, the joints are held closer together and there is greater ‘stiffness’ around the discs between our vertebrae because gravity causes a compressive load on our discs and joints plus the muscles that surround the spinal joints contract and so help to protect them. When we are lying down at night there is no gravity helping to protect those joints and therefore spinal movements can increase when we lie down as there is less stiffness in the area. You can therefore understand how turning over at night can be a problem if we twist from the waist – we need to think about it and keep our body in alignment when we turn over to prevent overload of the discs and joints. Also if we lie in a position that puts the joints under rotational pressure for too long, we can cause inflammation to worsen or develop and thus give us pain on waking. Therefore we need to consider how we do sleep.
Some sleeping positions such as lying on our front, are also believed to increase load on the spinal tissues, reducing recovery from problems and increasing pain when first waking. Sleeping on your stomach also makes you turn your neck which can put the neck and upper back under stress,
Side lying has been reported in research studies as being the position causing less symptoms first thing than when lying in ¾ side lying or prone. Another study showed that a mixture of side lying and lying on your back (supine) reduced lumbar pain but lying supine was not particularly protective of neck pain.
Generally it is accepted that sleeping in a neutral position is better for pain relief, with a pillow under your knees and a small roll under your neck – both of which help to maintain the natural curves of the back and neck. If you sleep on your side, a small pillow between your knees helps to reduce pelvic tilting and overstressing the ligaments in the area.
Choose a pillow that supports your neck so that it is in a neutral position when you lie on your side. A pillow with a ridge along one edge can be helpful but is not essential.
It is easy to change habits if you are aware that a sleep position you favour is really not helping you to avoid neck and back pain – it just takes a few nights!
2. Sitting all day at work – what does it do to our joints and also our brain?
For years we have known that sitting increases the compression forces in the spine which can contribute to pain.
Scientists have recently found that the area of the brain critical to memory formation called the medial temporal lobe becomes thinner the more time we spend sitting. This area also declines with age and contributes to memory impairment.
When we move, it helps to pump CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) to our brain, providing it with nutrients – 90% of nutrients to the brain comes from CSF. If we don’t move enough, research we are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Standing more often is also associated with better insulin sensitivity which is related to diabetes. If we sit too long it is thought that the body changes the way it reacts to insulin and we are more likely to develop diabetes 2. We are also prone to an increase in cholesterol in the bloodstream as well as increase in sugar.
It is therefore essential not just for our joints but for our body in general to keep more active.
Panic disorders and anxiety have also been found to increase the more sedentary we are.
The good news is that when we exercise, these tendencies can reduce – the likelihood of developing diabetes 2; panic disorders, back pain and developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease when we get older are all reduced by just doing a bit more exercise.
Research has shown that moving just 3 minutes every 30 minutes showed lower fasting blood sugar levels in the morning – not a lot to do to avoid type 2 diabetes from creeping up on you.
Therefore instead of buying your loved one a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – take them for a walk and tell them that shows that you really care about them!
Small ways to reduce how long you sit daily –
Park further away from the shops or the office or station en route to work.
When watching TV – get up and walk around during every commercial break
Walk up the stairs rather than take the lift or escalator
Do some lunges beside your desk frequently
Walk around when you are talking on the phone
3. Deep breathing regularly can reduce low back pain!
Try now taking a really deep breath – allow the abdomen to protrude and then when you breath out push out the air from deep in your abdomen. You will be surprised how much tension you lose from your back and neck by doing this simple thing. When you are standing talking on the phone, it is something you can do regularly as an exercise that does not affect your concentration – and the increased oxygen will help you think better!
Deep breathing also –
Reduces stress and makes us become more calm
Stimulates the lymphatic system
Lowers blood pressure and the heart rate
Helps to maintain good posture
Yoga helps to teach you to breathe correctly but you can help
yourself feel calmer by just doing a few deep breaths when you are
feeling tense – whatever you are doing!
4. Posture – keep thinking about how we are standing
Posture is a body’s attitude or the positioning of the limbs when standing or sitting. It is actually dynamic and constantly changing. The older we become, the worse our posture can become but the good news is that this does not necessarily mean that we must be in more pain as a result! The way we move is far more important than the way we stand.
Posture is a complex of reflexes, behaviours and adaptive responses to being upright, with various groups of muscles being important in maintaining posture, including the hamstrings and the low back muscles. There is no ‘gold standard’ posture that you should aim for, rather you should aim to keep gently altering your posture so you don’t put too much pressure for too long on your joints and ligaments.
If you have a leg length discrepancy, this may impact upon low back pain if it is greater than 5mm so wearing a heel lift to correct this may help balance you up and reduce back pain. It is worth trying to see if it does help you if you have such a discrepancy.
Pain itself can lead to poor posture so the quicker we become pain free, the better our posture will be.
Morgan Freeman said “Your best posture is your next posture” – so keep gently tilting your pelvis backwards and forwards and rotating your shoulders and stretching your neck while you are standing or sitting. Keep thinking about how you are doing what you are doing – it will pay huge dividends and quickly becomes one of your good habits!
5. Do we need Vitamins or Supplements for Optimum Back Health?
Glucosamine may help to keep the cartilage in joints healthy and it also has an anti inflammatory effect. The older we get our levels of natural glucosamine drop so taking some as a supplement may help.
Chondroitin is often taken at the same time as glucosamine and research has shown it may help with reducing pain, increasing joint mobility and reduced the need for painkillers.
When we have injuries, we need to have extra vitamin C, Calcium and vitamin D to help repair ligamentous or tendon damage. Vitamin D also helps the gut to absorb calcium – essential for bone health.
Vitamin D is also thought to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as affecting mental health and wellbeing.
Insufficient vitamin D can cause –
Joint pain – due to inflammation in the tissues around the joints. Studies have suggested that people with rheumatoid arthritis had notably less vitamin D in their blood than people without it and that people with low vitamin D levels were more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis or if they had it already, it increased the severity of the condition.
Muscle pain and weakness
Neurological problems such as numbness
Low mood – Seasonal Affective Disorder
Vitamin D is found in fresh fish, eggs, mushrooms, caviar. meat, avocados, melon, carrots, broccoli, shrimp, tofu, whole milk, canned salmon, cod liver oil, and most of all in sunshine! If you know you are not getting enough sun or any of these foods, it is always a good idea to consider adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet.