Get up and go: Maintaining spine health
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Maintaining spine health is important for keeping your back pain-free and preserving your mobility.
Exercises that strengthen your back and core can help to support your spine and maintain your quality of life. Outdoor activities have the bonus of boosting mental health.
Keeping good posture when you’re sitting and sleeping can also help with pain relief while keep your spine at its strongest.
Spring is coming and with it, a chance to start enjoying outdoor activities in warmer weather. Why not use your outdoor time as an opportunity to pay more attention to your spine health? Keeping your spinal cord healthy is an important part of preventing back pain and maintaining your mobility. Exercise and other healthy habits can help keep your spine in its best shape to keep holding you up.
If you’ve taken a break from sports or are trying a new activity, learn how to protect yourself from injury as you’re getting back in the game.
Incorporate core exercises to strengthen your spine
Your spine is what holds your whole upper body upright. That’s why it is important to engage and strengthen all your core muscles, including your upper and lower abdominals, obliques and back to maintain spine health and wellness. Some exercises to strengthen your core include:
- Side plank: Lie on your side with your forearm on the ground and your elbow under your shoulder. Lift your hips and engage your obliques.
- Trunk curl: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Curl your upper body off the ground and hold for a few seconds before returning to the starting position.
- Bird dog: While on all-fours, extend your opposite arm and leg and hold. Return to all-fours and repeat on the other side.
- Prone raises (“Supermans”): Lie flat on your stomach with your legs straight and arms extended overhead. Engage your back to lift your arms and legs off the ground. Hold for a few seconds before returning to the ground.
If you are actively experiencing back pain, consult with your physician for pain relief and treatment options before starting a new exercise regimen. You can also work with a physical therapist or athletic trainer to improve your core strength, especially if you are recovering from a back injury or pain.
"Prevention is the best strategy for dealing with spine issues. I tell my patients there are four things they can do to slow progression of their back problems: maintain a healthy weight, good posture, focus on core strength, and low impact aerobic exercise," Dr. Erick Westbroek says.
Opt for the outdoors
You can always take your core activities outdoors, but other exercises are ideal to do in nature. Taking these movements outside is a great way to enjoy a beautiful day.
Some activities, including exercises that improve cardiovascular health, can help support your spine by keeping it engaged and fluid. Many of these activities, like walking, running, biking, swimming and yoga, can also be enjoyed outside. These movements improve bone strength, support good posture and help shore up the muscles that support a healthy spine. They also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is another important factor in spine care and spine health.
Being outside has additional mental health benefits, including improving mood and reducing stress. Many outdoor activities, like taking a walk with a friend, can also be social, which further improves mental health.
Maintain healthy postures (at all hours)
Being seated for long periods can harm your spine because the disks in your spine have the most pressure on them when you are in seated positions. Keeping a good seated posture, including sitting up straight and not hunching forward, helps prevent some of these lower back pain problems. If you work at a desk, make sure to take regular breaks to stand and walk around to take pressure off your back and lumbar spine.
Sleep is another time to think about your spine health. Having a medium to firm mattress helps support your spine during sleep. Consider a bolster for under your knees if you are a back sleeper, as this helps to keep pressure off your lower back, thereby lessening your back pain. For side sleepers, putting a pillow between your knees can help keep your hips and lower back in alignment.
Erick Westbrook, MD, specializes in neurosurgery and spine surgery at Providence.
Find a doctor
If you are looking for a specialist to support you as you get back in the game, you can search for one who’s right for you from Providence Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute in our provider directory.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.