Understanding How to Care for Your Spine
1) Maintain good posture. Maintaining good posture while you sit, walk and sleep is probably the most important thing you can do for the health of your spine. Many people have sedentary jobs where they sit for most of the day, so the height, comfort and support of chairs are crucial. Make sure your office chair is adjustable (so you can customize it to your dimensions) and try to get one with lumbar support for your low back. At home, use cushions to support your back and prop your legs up while watching television.
- Try not to cross your legs or feet when you sit because it makes your hips unlevel and puts a strain on your lower back.
- Make sure your computer screen is at eye level and centred in front of your chair, otherwise, you’ll strain your neck and possible develop an abnormal curvature.
2) Wear quality shoes. Your feet are crucial for good posture because they are the foundation for your entire body.
- As such, wear sturdy shoes with good arch support, a slightly raised heel (1/2 – 3/4 of an inch) and plenty of room for your toes. In contrast, avoid regularly wearing high-heeled shoes because they affect the body’s center of gravity and induce compensatory alignment of the entire body — they can cause too much extension (called hyperlordosis) in the lumbar spine.
- If you are really heavy, have flat feet or a short leg, then consider getting orthotics (custom-made shoe inserts) of heel lifts. Orthotics promote a healthy spine by supporting the arches and allowing better biomechanics when running or walking.
- Orthotics are made by podiatrists, medical specialists and some chiropractors.
3) Sleep on a firm mattress. You likely spend at least 1/3 of your life in your bed, so pay a little more attention to the quality of your mattress and how you sleep on it. For most people, firm mattresses are the best strategy in order to provide the necessary support for their spine. Memory foam top covers may also be helpful. You should consider changing mattresses every eight to 10 years. The thickness of your pillow should match the distance from the side of your head to the tip of your shoulder — a good rule of thumb to keep your neck aligned while sleeping.
- The best sleeping position for your spine is laying on your side, with your hips and knees slightly bent, and with a small pillow wedged between your thighs, which helps to keep your hips aligned also.
- Try not to prop your head up with too many pillows while in bed reading because it will strain your neck and possibly reverse its normal lordosis (curve).
4) Avoid carrying a heavy backpack or messenger bag. Even if you are only carrying the weight from class to class, or from school back home, the weight of a heavy backpack can have serious consequences on your spinal health, as it compresses your spine. It can cause spine curvature and may even prevent you from reaching your full height! Even worse, if you carry your backpack on only one shoulder or wear a bag that puts all the weight on one shoulder, such as a messenger-style bag, your spine can begin to curve.
- When carrying a bag or backpack, make sure the weight is always evenly distributed between your shoulders. If you are carrying a very heavy suitcase or briefcase, make sure you don’t always carry it on the same side.
- Consider a rolling backpack or briefcase.
- Try to make more trips to your locker throughout the day and swapping out textbooks instead of carrying them all with you. If your locker is far away and the passing periods are short, see if you can get a note from your doctor that will allow you a little extra time to go to your locker between classes.
5) Exercise and be more active. Moderate exercise has many health benefits, including weight loss and increased muscle strength, which both positively impact the spine.Carrying too much weight puts excessive pressure on spinal joints, making them more susceptible to wearing out and becoming misaligned. In addition, stronger muscles keep bones and joints within their normal positions. Weight training is a great way to build stronger muscles, but be careful not to overwork certain muscle groups while ignoring their counterparts because that can lead to poor posture. Consult with a personal trainer if you’re unsure of how to train properly.
- Every morning when you wake up, turn on your back and slowly do “snow angels” with your arms and legs for three to five minutes. The motions are great for warming up and lightly stretching many muscles important for keeping your spine aligned.
- Using the rowing machine at the gym will strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades and promote better upper body posture.
- Pilates and yoga are other exercises that stretch and balance your body, especially the core muscles (abdomen, pelvis, low back), which form the foundation of good posture.