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Tips for a Healthier Spine


1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise and strengthening activities will promote a healthier, stronger and more stable spine. Aim for a minimum 30 minutes of exercise daily. Exercise does not have to be overly strenuous to achieve significant benefits. An activity such as a walking can make a huge difference. Start any new exercise slowly to give your body a chance to build the strength and fitness.

2. Maintain Optimum Body Weight.
Excessive bodyweight exerts more stress and pressure on the spine, thereby increasing risk for abnormal and accelerated “wear and tear”. Excessive body weight also makes it harder to maintain the optimal body alignment, which can cause stiffness and pain in the spine.

Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2). It is a rough guide only and does not account for age / build etc.

The WHO (World Health Organisation) definition is:
a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is overweight
a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is obesity.

3. Maintain Good Posture
It is very important to maintain optimal posture in sitting, standing, walking etc. Poor postures such as slouching cause uneven pressure through the spine, increase stiffness and can accelerate degeneration of the spine. Poor postures are also commonly associated with soft tissue strains and nerve irritation such as sciatica in the spine.

4. Improve Core Strength
The deep abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and diaphragm help support the low back and pelvis. These muscles make up what is called your “core”. Strengthening the core will increase spinal stability and reduce the risk of injury. Taking this one step further, exercise such as pilates, which focuses on strengthening the postural muscles as well as the core will benefit your spine.

5. Take Breaks from Sustained Postures
Avoid sustained postures, your body is not designed to stay in the one position for long periods of time. During episodes of prolonged sitting or standing, such as at an office desk, periodically take a break. Aim to take a break every 30 minutes to stretch your arms, legs and back. It only needs to be for a few minutes and then resume your activity. Periodic stretching will help to keep you from feeling stiff and sore at the end of the day.

6. Maintain Flexibility
Regular activity and stretching helps maintain flexibility of the spine; flexibility enables you to maintain an optimal posture and even pressure through the spine. It also allows for normal, full range of movement of the spine.

7. Use Proper Lifting Techniques
Proper lifting technique will reduce the risk for spine injury. Keep the back straight and bend the knees and hips when lifting; this reduces stress on the back. Avoid lifting objects higher than your waist whenever possible. Face the object you wish to lift. When lifting hold the objects close to the body. Do not twist through you spine while lifting. When possible push rather than pull an object which is less stress on the back. Seek help lifting when necessary.

8. Invest in a Good Pillow and Mattress
The average individual spends approximately one third of life sleeping, therefore proper support of the spine and head during this period is important. There are different types of pillows and what feels the most comfortable to you is the best. A good mattress will support the spine and facilitate a better quality of sleep.

9. Invest in Good Chairs
We spend the majority of our lives in a sitting position. Chair design greatly influences sitting posture. Poor chairs contribute to chronic back problems; well- designed chairs promote better back health. Regardless of design it is very important that you aim to take breaks while sitting every 30 minutes.

10. Take Care with Strenuous Activities
When undertaking strenuous activities take care not to over do it. In particular take care with activities that you do not partake in regularly as your body is not conditioned for them. Common activities that cause injuries to the spine are gardening, moving house, shifting furniture etc.

11. Listen to Your Back
Avoid positions and activities which cause increased back pain including referred symptoms down your arms or legs. If back symptoms should persist or progress, see a physiotherapist. If you are performing an activity that causes back pain, think about what you can change to alleviate the pain. Your body will usually tell you what it needs if you take time to listen to it.

12. Learn to Relax
Learn to manage stress both on and off the job. This will help to reduce muscle tension and pain from those muscles. I think we can all relate to stress causing tension in our neck and shoulders.