Back to Basics in the New Year: Ways to Improve Spine Health

The past few years have been complicated – your spine health doesn’t have to be.

Committing this year to do better for your spine health doesn’t require a ton of effort or any equipment. Being mindful that your spine deserves care and attention, and then intentionally implementing a few regular steps to keep it in shape can make a world of difference – well beyond the turn of the calendar pages.

Stretch It Out

Stretching exercises focused on the spine are a win-win when it comes to spine health. Not only do they help relieve acute back pain episodes, but spinal stretches also aid in keeping the muscles surrounding the spine loose and flexible – which can reduce the risk of future back pain episodes.

Make daily stretching a habit first thing in the morning. A few minutes of simple yoga stretches like Downward Dog, or Cat/Cow can prime your spine for the day ahead! If you’re new to stretches or getting back into a routine after some time off, be sure to start gradually and always stop the movement if it is painful.

Of course, and especially if you have chronic back pain, always consult your doctor first before embarking on a new exercise routine – even one that only involves stretching.

Move Around More

Whether it’s sitting while working from home or an office, or vegging out on the couch, too much time in a seated position is terrible for your back. Before COVID-19 took center stage as health enemy No. 1, the medical community heavily discussed the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle.

A 2018 JAMA research letter evaluated data from a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of nearly 6,000 adult subjects and found that most respondents reported sitting for eight hours or more every day. Can you imagine what that number is likely to be today? 10 hours? More?

Evidence suggests that a sedentary lifestyle and not enough physical activity is not only bad for your spine – it can shorten your life. So, make it a point to get up and move around for at least five minutes for every half hour of sitting you do.

Quit Smoking – NOW!

Even if you don’t smoke “old-school” cigarettes, modern vaping devices aren’t a healthy bet either. The chemical compounds in both are terrible for overall spine health and can lead to chronic back pain and other degenerative spine conditions.

Additionally, research suggests smokers may be more likely to require spine surgery later in life. Their bones are also less likely to heal properly after the operation than someone who never smoked.

If you don’t smoke now, don’t start. And if you do, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about taking the necessary steps to quit. 

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

You can think of water as total nourishment for your spine. The discs located between each vertebra of the spine need water to remain supple cushions for the bones of the spine. Water helps lubricate muscles and keeps spinal discs from drying out and cracking. When the discs of the spine aren’t healthy, various spinal conditions can arise – many of which result in back pain.

The “right” amount of hydration for each individual can be subjective, but most people don’t get enough water daily. An excellent guide to follow is by looking at the color of your urine when you pee. It should be a light “straw” color. If it’s dark yellow or orange, you’re not getting enough water throughout the day. Make sure you do this by tracking your intake and then setting up reminders to drink before you feel parched.

You don’t have to commit to significant, sweeping life changes to reap the spine health benefits. When performed consistently over time, these four simple, equipment-free and low-commitment steps can provide enormous benefits to your spine and your overall health.

Try it out for a month and track how you feel. I’m betting the effort will be well worth to reward. Happy New Year!

Neel Anand MD

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