6 Ways to Prevent (and Fix) Neck, Back, and Spine Problems

Move over heart and brain: The spine finally gets its due as the most influential part of the body


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You probably know where your hip joint and knee joint are connected, but most of us don’t think much about the spine — until something goes wrong and back pain flares. So it’s usually a revelation when patients come to the office of Dr. Ken Hansraj, a Poughkeespsie-based spinal and orthopedic surgeon, and he shows them a three-dimensional model of the spine.

“People simply don’t know that they have spine joints — 24 pairs of them — and they need to be taken care of,” says Hansraj, author of Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine.

In fact, the good doctor believes that the spine is the key to whole-body health. Just like the brain, it is part of the central nervous system and works in tandem with millions of nerves like a big electrical circuit. These nerves, in turn, send messages to the brain that impact the body’s functions. “The brain, spinal cord, and nerve roots are part of the same system,” explains Hansraj. “The spine influences all parts of the body, so if you have numbness or pain in your fingers or your toes, for instance, we can find the exact spot on the spine to which it correlates.”

Alarmingly, Hansraj is seeing an epidemic of clients as young as age 12. Many of them are victims of “text neck,” a result of holding the neck downward while typing into a smartphone. Nurses, hairstylists, architects, laborers, welders, and dentists are also frequent clients, due to the fact that they’re usually bending themselves into unnatural positions.

For many, the only solution is surgery. And new, cutting-edge technologies have helped many, including Helen Daniels, a 100-year-old client, who made headlines when she went from wheelchair to walking as a result of kyphoplasty (in which an orthopedic balloon is inserted into the spine to restores vertebral height).

But you don’t need to visit the operating room to improve your spine. Here are a few tips for everyday techniques that could prevent — or even reverse — back problems.

1. Sit Up Straight

Poor posture can put your back out of whack and lead to pain. Align your ears over your shoulders. Pull back your shoulder blades, or “angel wings.” People with great posture usually have self-confidence in spades.

2. Heads Up

Keep your head up when you’re on your smart device. Consider this: In a neutral position, an adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds. As the head tilts forward the forces on the spine begin to increase, and make the head effectively weigh 27 pounds at 15 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees. So instead of bending your neck, look down at your device with your eyes. It’s good to stretch your neck, however, with bending and extension range-of-motion exercises: Bend your head forward, then extend it back. Turn left, then right; tilt left, then right. Do this a few times daily.

3. Breathe

Simply place your hands on your stomach and feel the movement as you inhale and exhale. Be conscious of breathing throughout the day, taking deep breaths. Deep breathing stimulates the spinal nerves.

4. Restore Your Core

Sure, there’s the buttocks and the abdomen, but there is also something called the psoas muscle, your innermost core and the muscle that connects the spine to the leg (as any Pilates diehard will tell you). For a triple hit of core strength, do one minute of the plank exercise every day (balance on your arms), 25 pushups (which help posture by strengthening the upper chest and scapular muscles), and one minute of partial, crunch-type sit-ups.

5. Watch Your Diet

Calcium and vitamin D supplementation are important to spinal health. There is also evidence that Omega 3 and Vitamin B help nerve metabolism. Drink lots of water for spinal hydration. “Studies on astronauts showed us that the disc height diminishes through the day with standing and increases and restores at night with sleeping and hydration,” says Hansraj.

6. Sleep Well

Sleeping on your side is best for your spine. Layer two pillows: a firmer one on the bottom and softer one on top. Your head should be in neutral-neither too high or low. A firm mattress with a soft pillow top is also a plus.

For more information, visit www.drken.us.

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