Build a Healthier Spine at Home

Even during uncertain times, there is no shortage of ways to improve your S.P.I.N.E health.

Most people are aware that an insulated, sedentary lifestyle is bad for our health. Our species is designed to move and gather. However, our current circumstances have made it much more challenging to prioritize our overall physical and mental health. While we are still being advised to “stay at home,” adhere to “social distancing” recommendations, and otherwise avoid contracting or spreading Covid-19, there are ways for us to do both – prevent contracting and/or spreading the novel coronavirus and be the healthiest you possible once we are on the side of this pandemic (because we will be).

Below and in no particular order of importance, using the acronym S.P.I.N.E., I offer some simple tips and practices you can engage in at home. When done together, these are things that can spell significant relief for occasional bouts of back pain and help prevent spine issues from showing up down the road.

S – Stress Relief: Many people tend to carry stress in their muscles. When we are anxious or worried, our body’s physiological response is to “tense up.” This tension often presents itself in the form of neck pain and lower back pain. And these are arguably some of the most stressful times of our lives. Take an active part in reducing stress by practicing deep breathing techniques, engaging in mindfulness meditation, or practicing Yoga. You may initially find the practice of quieting your mind awkward or strange, but eventually, many people see lasting and positive benefits – including a reduction in neck and back pain.

P – Posture: Many of us are currently working or learning remotely from home, in an environment that may not have been initially set up for these purposes. The resulting unnatural posturing of our bodies can lead to significant back and neck pain risk. When possible, resist the urge to work or study for long periods while sitting on a couch or lying on a bed. Instead, find a stable table-top surface to position your device atop, and sit in a chair that has a back and allows you to place your feet on the floor firmly. Also, try not to sit for long periods. Get up and walk around or stretch for at least five minutes, every 30 minutes or so.

I – Ideal Body Weight: Whether it’s “stress eating,” or not moving as much, our current circumstances are leading to significant weight gain for some people. If you’ve found an increase in body weight to be true for you, this can harm your spine. Simply put, our spinal structures and muscles aren’t designed to carry around more than our ideal body weight for our height. The pressure and impact on the spine of weight beyond what is considered ideal can be catastrophic. If you’ve found the scale start to creep up, make a concerted effort to focus on the types and quantities of food you are eating and take opportunities to move your body more.

N – Nutrition: As I mentioned above, what we eat has the potential to not only negatively impact our body weight, which can domino into spine health issues, it can also positively benefit the spine. You may have learned in childhood, for example, that calcium is vital for robust bone health. But did you also know that drinking cow’s milk isn’t the only way to get your body the calcium it needs? In fact, dark, leafy vegetables including kale, as well as many types of fish can boost calcium levels. On the flip side, a diet too rich in heavily processed “junk” foods can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. That inflammatory response can negatively impact spine health. Try to fill your plate with lean protein and vegetables and keep the treats to a minimum as often as possible.

E – Exercise: Our bodies are intricately designed to move efficiently and often. Because your spine is the “backbone” of your entire human form, keeping it stable and flexible is essential. Though it may be tougher to get outside and exercise right now, there is plenty you can do at home. Gentle stretching and spine elongation exercises don’t require a ton of space, and simple strength training with dumbbells can also help. Core-focused exercises like planks are also strengthening for spinal muscles. Always remember to use the correct form with any activity you do, and if exercising is new to you, check with your doctor before you begin.

Though we don’t yet know for sure what our “new normal” will look like, we can all do our part to take this opportunity and make it a “greater normal” for our bodies. Honoring them by staying healthy and strong is crucial to having a long and more productive life. Your spine will most definitely agree.


Neel Anand, MD

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