Maintaining whole body health is crucial to feeling well and living a long happy, healthy life. By taking care of your spine you can protect your central nervous system which controls every single cell, tissue and organ in your body. Movement is one of the primary signs of life and any change in the structure or function of the spine my adversely affect human movement. Support for the head is paramount because the neck is involved in quick coordinating movements for survival and protection and in general daily activities. The shoulder and pelvic areas are also attached and supported. All these structures are related to the spine. As massage therapists we see thousands of backs and we believe it is the most beautiful part of the body, each one for its own uniqueness.
Your spinal cord gives you the ability to bend and be flexible. The nervous system runs electrical impulses up and down the spine. A damaged spinal cord can disrupt neural responses and disable sensations in parts of your body. Incorrect movement, intense exercises and bad posture can add unnecessary pressure to the spine, which over time can lead to degenerative diseases. Abnormal movement and improper stance can cause wear and tear to your spinal structure, leading to injuries that require surgery and can permanently damage your spinal discs and joints.
Spinal problems can begin as early as the late twenties, and some unfortunately have problems even earlier due to sport injuries or bad posture. To prevent injury to your spine or further deterioration, it is important to strengthen your spine with exercise. Stretching daily and practicing proper posture when sitting, standing, sleeping, exercising and playing sports are some of the ways you can take better care of your spine. Practicing good posture isn’t something you do only when standing. Many of us sit for long periods of time hunched over our desks. This isn’t good for our backs either. Here are some tips for better posture:
Before getting into your exercise routine, start with stretches that will protect your back. Stretches that are good for your back include cat and cow pose, downward dog, hip flexor stretch and reverse bridge pose. Stretching in the morning can also help when you accidentally slept in a bad position. Yoga can also help loosen spinal tension and help you correct your posture. Practicing yoga, using light weights and doing push-ups can all help strengthen your back muscles and open up your spine.
Side and back positions are optimal for maintaining good posture as you sleep. Placing a pillow between your legs while in a side position, or behind your legs when you are lying on your back, can ease stress on your lower back. Also avoid lying on your stomach for long periods of time as it can arch your back. Try not to use oversized pillows as this can shift the upper part of your spine. Select a pillow that has just enough cushion to align your head with the rest of your spine.
Lift carefully! When lifting heavy objects, don’t try to lift from the side or on your back. Place the load in front of you. With your knees bent to a squatting or lunge position and your back in a neutral position, lift carefully by slowly bringing it up toward your chest. Avoid twisting or slouching when lifting and lowering.
When you sit down at work or at home, sit back in your chair to where your buttocks are against the backrest. Maintain a small space between the back of your knees and the front of the chair. Place your feet in front of you on the ground with your legs forming a 90-degree angle. Straighten your back by pulling your chest up and your shoulders back, just as if you were standing. Maintain a level chin and relaxed mouth to avoid fatigue as well. Proper ergonomics can help reduce a lot of stress on both the lower and upper back, which in return, reduces the frequency of conditions ranging from stiff back and headaches to carpal tunnel and sciatica.
When standing, allow your feet to be slightly parted. Tuck your tailbone in and tilt your pelvic bone forward a little. This should create a small hollow in your lower back. Lift your chest by pulling your shoulders back and down in a relaxed position. Keep your chin level with your jaw relaxed. Standing in this manner can take practice if you’re not used to it. It’s worth it though, and you will begin to naturally fall into this position when standing if you make a conscious effort to practice.
Research shows that massage therapy has several potential health benefits for back pain sufferers, including increased blood flow and circulation, which brings needed nutrition to muscles and tissues. This aids in recovery of muscle soreness from physical activity or soft tissue injury, such as muscle strain. This muscle relaxation can improve flexibility, reduce pain caused by tight muscles and even improve sleep. As well increased endorphin levels–the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. This mood enhancer can help reduce pain and speed recovery which is particularly important for those suffering from chronic back or neck problems. We also highly recommend you try a Thai massage if you are suffering or in back pain. It is an ancient healing system combining acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga postures which is incredibly effective for back pain or injury.
If you are experiencing severe back pain you should be checked by a medical personnel before beginning massage therapy. Always obtain an accurate medical diagnosis for the cause of your back pain prior to beginning a new treatment such as massage therapy to rule out potentially serious conditions. Take care of your temple and keep that beautiful spine up straight!