Spinal Hygiene Routine
Do you stop brushing and flossing your teeth when your dentist tells you that you’re cavity free? Of course not! You keep up a daily dental hygiene routine to make sure those pearly whites stay in top chomping condition. Your spine should be no different! So here’s a great beginners guide to making sure you keep up your own spinal hygiene routine.
Posture is the window to your spine.
Observing other people’s posture is a great way to start understanding its effects on your body. Looking at yourself or someone else from the front, standing straight up, you should take note of their shoulders, head, and hips. If everything is aligned perfectly the shoulders and hips should both be parallel to the ground. Is one perhaps higher than the other? This could mean that there is a curve or tilt in the spine in that direction. Looking at someone from the side you should see their ears stacked on top of their shoulders, shoulders are stacked on top of their hips, hips are over their knees, and knees are over their ankles. Are their shoulders slumped forward? What about their neck? Is there a curve in their mid back? That curve or lump in the mid back is also known as kyphosis. Did you know that there is a direct correlation to kyphosis and a decrease in your life span? A 2013 study in Japan proved that your posture has a huge impact on your lifespan. This is because there a so many major organs in your torso (like your heart and lungs) that cannot perform at optimum levels when you are slouched over. Your lungs can’t expand fully to get oxygen! You’re heart, liver, and stomach are all cut off from vital nerve supply. Another 2004 study found the practice of spinal hygiene showed “great promise in the vital area of improvement of quality of life.” We live in a society where sedentary living is a pandemic and our spinal health is deteriorating, so it’s important to take steps early on to start our spinal hygiene!
How can you improve your posture?
Just being aware of it is a great first step. Start looking at your posture in the mirror, or do a posture check when you sitting at your computer, or looking down at your phone. Catching yourself now and trying to actively correct it by sitting up straight really does help. You can’t fix something you don’t know about right? Once you do that there are some stretches and exercises that are great to work into your spinal hygiene routine. One is the seated neck stretch. This one is great if you spend a lot of time working on a computer or hunched over looking down at something. Once seated, grab your chair with your left hand and grab your head with your right hand then gently bring your right ear towards your right shoulder. Make sure not to over do it! You should feel a stretch and not pain. Make sure to repeat on the other side by grabbing your chair with your right hand and then stretching to the left. Planks are a great way to strengthen your core so your back muscles can support you, and you only need to take a minute out of your day to do one.
If you really want to strengthen the whole postieror chain (legs, buttox, back) an exercise called the founder is a great one to try. Here’s a link to a video you can watch:
The founder is like the plank, only it focuses on key core muscles in the posterior chain that support your back and it’s movements. You can also just do this one for a few minutes and still feel it’s effects. An exercise called the ‘bird dog’ is another good one for strengthening core muscles, much like the plank. Once you start getting good at it you can always ‘up your game’ with a small hand weight.
Exercise discs called “wobble cushions” can also be a great thing to introduce into your spinal hygiene. You don’t actually need to introduce them into a workout routine, just introduce them to your seat. Place them on your work chair, or even your desk chair at home and sit on them. The cushion will keep your hips moving around and you’ll notice you sit up straighter with it too.
These cushions help put gentle motion in the low back to keep it healthy. Foam rollers are amazing to work into your routine. There are so many stretches and exercises that incorporate foam rollers, but mostly just rolling your back on it at the end of a hard day will help open up your spine. Just check with your chiropractor before use to make sure you’re ready to use it. Also, don’t forget those ice packs to make sure you’re keep the inflammation down in your neck and back. Most of all, if you don’t go to a chiropractor, make sure you get a check up. You may have some damaged areas causing health problems that need to be addressed before your posture will improve.