More than any other part of the body in the human musculoskeletal system, your spine is extremely important. Your spine is the main support of the body, and a determining factor of your overall health and well-being. Its anatomy facilitates movement and support of your head, back, ribcage, and limbs. It serves as a conduit for the nervous system to send and receive messages to and from the brain. That’s why it is so important to protect your spine from injury or degeneration.
Humans are vertebrates, meaning our anatomy consists of a backbone and a skeleton. This backbone protects and provides structural support. From the skull to the pelvis, the spine, also known as the spinal or vertebral column, contains a group of 33 individual interlocking or stacked bones called vertebrae, which are the bony building blocks of the spine. The vertebrae contain multiple parts, all responsible for making it possible for our spine to function properly. These vertebrae are attached to a rubbery spine disc in between each one, which acts as a shock absorber or protective barrier from injury and damage. The spine is composed and segmented into five regions, each one being a different location along the spinal column. These include: the cervical spine (Neck), thoracic spine (Upper Back), lumbar Spine (Lower Back), sacral spine (Bottom of Spine), and coccygeal (Coccyx, or Tailbone).
The spine also protects the most important elements in our central nervous system (CNS), which contains two of the most important components, the brain and spinal cord. The spinal cord in the CNS has two main, yet, crucial functions. First, it connects the peripheral nervous system (PNS) to the brain. Secondly, information or nerve impulses are able to reach the spinal cord through sensory neurons, and these messages or signals are then sent to the brain to be decoded, resulting in our five senses activating.
The brain is the command center for your body, and the spinal cord is the pathway for messages sent by the brain to the body, and from the body to the brain. The spinal cord serves as a conduit for signals between the brain and the rest of the body. It also controls simple musculoskeletal reflexes without input from the brain.
Research has shown that most neurons in the central nervous system cannot repair or renew themselves, unlike other cells throughout the body. Therefore, if the spinal cord and nervous system become damaged due to degeneration from conditions such as a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, an injury, or wear and tear due to aging, this can result in permanent damage to the spine, possible paralysis, chronic back pain, disability, and further complications that can significantly disrupt and impact your quality of life.
Back pain does not discriminate. The pain can occur anywhere along the spine or in other adjacent or nearby muscles, varying both in intensity and frequency. Back pain can be in one place or radiate to other areas of the body. This is why seeing a doctor immediately at the first sign of a problem or discomfort is so important. Putting off seeing the doctor can hinder your functionality and ability to move significantly. Further complications can arise. Since the spine’s anatomy is so complex with different parts, back pain can be hard to diagnose, as symptoms are not always present right away, or the pain someone is feeling is not just in one part of the back or spine.
Any kind of back pain is a warning that something is wrong or damaged, and should be taken seriously, not ignored. If left untreated, some causes of back pain can lead to permanent damage to the spine or nerves. Lower back pain in the lumbar spine region is the most common type of back pain people are seen for, as it is extremely disabling. In other words, research states that 80 percent of people will have back problems at some point in their lives, the most common being low back pain. To understand your back pain, and avoid it from happening so frequently, it is important to know ways that you can protect your spine. Here are five ways to help you achieve some level of comfort, regain functionality and mobility, and most importantly get some pain relief.
1. Rest your spine: When you are lying down resting, your spine wants to relax like all the other parts of your body. The muscles and joints have worked all day have a chance to be relaxed and rejuvenated. Have a good mattress and pillows, and lie down as flat as possible so that your spine is supported the way it should. Pain in the spine and back could very well be due to strain and discomfort from your mattress, and the position you are lying or sleeping in.
2. Strengthen your abs and back muscles: Your core muscles are your lower back and abdominal muscles, and they provide a lot of support for your body. These parts of the body need to be strong and agile in order to provide essential support to your spine, and take pressure off your lower back. For a majority of us, these core muscles are rarely used on a daily basis. However, the abs and back muscles are needed to be toned by doing specific, targeted exercises. These exercises are simple and can be worked into and included in your workout regimen, and performed in sets or reps for about 20 to 30 minutes, or whatever feels comfortable for you.
3. Wear comfortable, yet supportive shoes: Good shoes that are both comfortable and supportive provide a base that helps your spine and body remain in alignment. Wearing supportive footwear, whether you are working out, running, or just out and about, is important for avoiding back and hip pain, and other complications to other areas of the body.
4. Get Massages and engage in rehabilitation: Rehabilitation is crucial to help anyone regain function, mobility, and most importantly, have a successful recovery. Physical therapy and massage is a good way to help protect the spine. A good massage will not only help relieve stress, but helps to increases the body’s production of endorphins into your bloodstream, a natural painkiller that helps to relieve back pain. In the voice of Elle Woods from Legally Blonde “Exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins make you happy.”
5. Have good posture: Sitting for long periods of time at work or at home can cause pain in the back and aggravate the muscles in your spine. For those sitting at a desk or at a computer most of the day, our body’s natural tendency is to slouch and lean forward. This is bad, as it actually stresses out the discs of the lumbar region of the spine, along with other muscles, causing stress and strain in the lower back, which can radiate to other areas.
Choosing the right office chair, preferably an ergonomic one, or orthopedic approved one, and practicing good posture, plays an important role in supporting the natural curves of your back. It’s also important to do whatever you can to avoid sitting for long periods of time. So get up to stretch and walk around from time to time, as our spine is meant to move to stay healthy, and movement helps fuel the spine with healthy nutrients, essential for proper function.
To learn more about ways to protect your spine, call the Spine Academy of Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland at (410) 644-1880, or request an appointment online.