10 tips for a healthy spine

The structure of the human spine

The spine is the backbone of the body that provides structural and nervous support to the whole body. With the help of the spine, we keep the body upright, rotate and bend the trunk and it provides us with the main nerves that branch on the human body from the brain to the toes. It also serves as a protection for the spinal cord and allows us to amortize the load on the human body. 

The human spine is divided into 5 regions:

  1. Cervical spine (C1-C7)
  2. Thoracic spine (T1-T12)
  3. Lumbar spine (L1-L5)
  4. Sacrum
  5. Coccyx
 
3 natural curves of the spine are: 
  1. Cervical lordosis
  2. Thoracic kyphosis
  3. Lumbar lordosis
There is also a lateral curvature of the spine called scoliosis, but it is not natural and it can cause serious problems in a person with a higher degree of scoliosis.
 

The spine is also surrounded by numerous muscles and ligaments whose function is to support, stabilize and move the spine or trunk itself. 

Intervertebral discs are structures that are located between the vertebrae and allow the depreciation of the force during the movement of the spine. They consist of a soft nucleus (nucleus pulposus) and a hard ring (annulus fibrosus). When the outer ring breaks, the soft core comes out of the disc itself and a herniated disc occurs, which causes a large part of the world's population problems such as lumboischialgia (sciatica).

Kralježnica anatomija
Vježbe za kralježnicu

1. Exercise, exercise and exercise!

We would dare to say by far the most important advice of all the tips that we will share with you today is the advice to exercise regularly in order to prevent pain in the area of the spine itself and significantly increase the quality of life in the later years of life. Just as you regularly brush your teeth in order to be healthy and do not have to change them later with artificial ones, you should also exercise regularly so that in the later years of life you do not have to operate the spine or wear mobility aids such as crutches, walkers and the worst variant, that you do not end up in a wheelchair. All other tips that we will give you for the health of the spine do not carry any similar weight as advice to regularly strengthen and stretch the spine or muscles in the spine area. 

Exercises for the spine achieve a number of benefits such as: 

  • By strengthening the muscles that support the spine, we reduce the load on the intervertebral discs and small joints of the spine
  • Stretching and mobility exercises reduce the tension of the spine muscles and increase the range of movement in the spine itself
  • Exercise also promotes better circulation in the body that directly affects the discs of the spine itself
  • We prevent the occurrence of problems and damage in the area of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine
  • We release endorphins that serve as a natural analgesic for pain in the spine and the rest of the body 
 
In the photo that we have attached you can find simple and extremely effective exercises for the spine. 

2. Control body weight

We all know today that being overweight causes a number of health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, vascular disease, diabetes, lung problems, osteoarthritis, and many other diseases. According to the data from the World Health Organization from 2021. obesity kills 2.8 million people worldwide. Indirect obesity additionally endangers the lives of a much larger number of people who, along with obesity, have primary diagnoses that are already life-threatening by themselves, and obesity additionally endangers them due to a number of negative factors.

 

As it has an extremely negative effect on the entire human body, obesity has an extremely negative effect on the health of the spine. With greater body weight we put a greater load on the spine itself when moving and in any physical activity. A higher load also means faster spinal damage if you already have a genetic predisposition for it or have previously had a spinal injury or damage. This research has a large sample of 23,048 patients and it showed that obesity creates an additional risk for developing lumbar pain and disc herniation. 

 

We return again to the previous advice and advise you to move and exercise as regularly and efficiently as possible!

The spine of an obese person

3. What you sleep on makes the difference!

It is a well-known fact that people sleep a third of their lives or on average for 8 hours a day. Given that long period in which our body is in a certain position, an extremely important factor for the spine is in which position and on what exactly you sleep on, 

Pillow:

For the health of the complete spine with an emphasis on the cervical spine, an extremely important factor is the pillow. Ideally, your cervical spine should be in a neutral position while sleeping. So your pillow should not be too high or too low to avoid unnecessary stress on the cervical spine and tension on surrounding muscles during the night, which can cause reduced mobility and pain in the cervical spine. An inadequate pillow can also worsen the symptoms of cervicobrachial syndrome.

Mattress:

Another important factor is the mattress that you sleep on. It is especially important for the lumbar spine because people who have problems with the lumbar spine should not sleep on soft mattresses that allow the lumbar spine to form an irregular shape when sleeping. People with lumboischialgia (sciatica) have to pay special attention to the quality of the mattress because a low-quality and too-soft mattress can aggravate pain and nerve compression. So if you have a problem with the lumbar spine or would like to prevent it, it is preferable to sleep on a harder mattress than on a softer one. 

4. Be careful how you lift heavy objects

This is one of those rules for a healthy spine that we all know but unfortunately, no one adheres to. 

One of the strongest muscles of the human body are the gluteus maximus and the quadriceps, with which we lift the body from the ground or make a squat movement. These muscles and this movement should always be used when lifting heavier objects off the floor to protect the health of the spine and not damage it.

In our clinic, we receive a large number of patients whose problems in the lumbar spine appeared when they improperly lifted a heavy object from the floor where instead of lifting the object from the legs, they lifted the same object from the back. This movement can be dangerous because the muscles of the spine and trunk are significantly weaker than the muscles of the legs and gluteal muscles and they are not intended to accept loads when lifting heavier objects off the floor. 

5. Walk after long sitting hours

Today, a large number of the world's population work sedentary jobs during which they have to sit for 8 or more hours. The human body is not evolutionarily developed to be in the same position for a long time and not to change it. 

In order to preserve a healthy spine, you would be advised if you are doing sedentary work or have a tendency to sit at home for longer periods of time, every hour and a half to 2 hours get up, walk and gently stretch the joints of the neck and spine to reduce the load on the spine and establish better circulation in the same. Such little things in the day will make a big difference in the potential pain and limitations that might develop in the spine itself in the future.

6. Wear high-quality shoes

Our feet support the weight of the whole body, absorb the shock that occurs when we walk and run, and help keep the spine and torso upright. When we wear shoes that negatively affect the position of the feet, we will consequently negatively affect the posture of the body or the spine itself. 

Shoes such as heels or flip-flops, if worn frequently, distort the relations of force to the foot and consequently the relations of force to all joints of the body whose posture depends on the position of the foot. Wearing such shoes can cause pain in the feet, knees, hips, and finally in the spine itself. Inadequate footwear also contributes to the development of overstrain syndrome such as jumpers knee and shin splints.

What are good quality shoes? 

  • When walking or running longer, it is necessary to have sports shoes that have adequate support for the foot, are comfortable, and do not cause pain in the feet and other joints during and after the activity
  • Change walking/running shoes more often because the support in running shoes after 3 months can lose its function and impair the force ratio to the foot
  • Make anatomical insoles so that other sneakers and shoes you wear have adequate support for your foot 
  • Choose the right size of sneakers because too small or too large sneakers can make a disturbance in the walking pattern
Vrste deformacija stopala

7. Quit smoking

A number of scientific studies have found a link between smoking and chronic pain. Since tobacco products are full of toxic substances that are inhaled into the body, smoking alone can causes a number of health conditions that result in chronic pain. 

In addition to causing damage to the entire body, cigarettes have been proven to cause damage to the spine itself. A study including 331,000 construction workers in Sweden found that smokers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day were 46% more likely to have spinal surgery. For moderate smokers up to 14 cigarettes a day, the risk was 31% higher, while for former smokers the risk of surgery was 13% higher than for non-smokers. 

Nicotine can damage tissue in the spine itself, weaken bones and increase the chances of pain in the lumbar spine. 

Another research investigated the effect of smoking on the spine or on the possibility of spinal surgery has shown that smoking accelerates spondylosis by interfering with the vascular supply of spinal tissue, causing local inflammation, hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the cells), and leading to cell loss. With this mechanism, smoking threatens the intervertebral disc, cartilage, bone, and blood vessels and can lead to early spinal surgery.

8. The spine loves water!

In the introduction, we mentioned intervertebral discs as extremely important parts of the spine that absorb the external force that affects the spine itself. The core of the intervertebral discs is composed partly of water and its intake is necessary for normal function and effective force absorption.

During the day, the discs lose water and need to be rehydrated. When we do not drink enough water, the inner core of the disc shrinks and partially loses the ability to depreciate the force on the spine. 

The required water intake is individual from person to person and depends significantly on the activities and intensity of the same activities of the person throughout the day. The general rule would be that at 30 kilograms of body weight you drink one liter of water per day. So if you weigh 90 kilos you should drink at least 3 liters of water a day. But it also depends on your activity and sweating throughout the day. If the activity and sweating are more intense, it is necessary to compensate, i.e. to enter more water into the body.

Voda

9. Eat properly

Bones, muscles, and other structures in the spine need quality nutrition to be strong enough to support the body and perform other necessary functions in the body.

As a general rule, it is recommended to include the following nutrients in the diet to keep the spine healthy: 

  • calcium is one of the most important minerals in the bones it is necessary for their health and helps maintain the necessary level of bone mass throughout the lifetime (yogurt, milk, cheese, sardines, salmon, almonds, calcium supplements)
  • magnesium is a key mineral in the structure of the bone matrix and is necessary for relaxation and strengthening the muscles that support the spine (magnesium supplements, fish, legumes, nuts, yogurt, avocado, bananas, dark chocolate)
  • vitamin D3 helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for the development of strong and healthy bones (salmon, egg yolks, supplements)
  • vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen or connective tissue found in bones, muscles, tendons, and skin (strawberries, kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, supplements)
  • proteins are critical components of the bones whose intake improves the maintenance, healing, and regeneration of bones, cartilage, and soft tissues (chicken, turkey, fasting cheese, egg whites, whey protein)
  • vitamin B12 is needed in the formation of bone-building cells and it is necessary for the formation of red blood cells in the bone marrow (eggs, fish, meat, dairy products, supplements)

10. If you have pain, visit a medical specialist as soon as possible!

The big problem with most patients who visit us for examination and therapy is that they wait too long and believe that their symptoms will go away on their own. Unfortunately, most of the more serious symptoms in the area of the spine such as pain, inflammation, reduced mobility, and stiffness do not go away by themselves and do not go away easily. 

If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a couple of days and you notice that it does not decrease, we advise you to make an examination appointment with a physiotherapist, chiropractor, medical doctor, or another medical professional to determine what the problem is and to begin to solve the problem as soon as possible. 

In order to solve the problem as quickly, and as effectively as possible, it is necessary to start with quality therapy and rehabilitation on time! 

 

Some of the most common diagnoses that patients come to us with that are closely related to the spine are: 

Rehabilitation of the spine
Bsc. PT. Toni Marić

Bsc. PT. Toni Marić

Toni is bacc. physical therapist and the owner of the Ad Sacrum clinic who has been treating top athletes for years and also teaches at the Dry needling courses for physiotherapists.

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