Ways to keep your back and spine healthy
With World Spine Day falling on October 16, experts tell Phorum Dalal how to sit right, sleep tight and stand tall to prevent chronic backache
The spine — like a past that comes back to haunt you — has a sharp memory. It remembers every bend and twist, be it while you are balancing the cell phone between your ear and shoulder, getting out of bed without turning on the side, playing a sport without stretching first or sitting at your workstation for hours without taking a break. “We say smoking is injurious to health, but a sedentary lifestyle is even more harmful,” says Dr Garima Anandani, chief spine specialist, Qi Spine Clinic.
Extension in standing: Support your lower back with both hands, keep your knees straight and bend backwards. Pics/ Nimesh Dave
She adds that simple activities such as keeping your feet straight and slouching on your pillow while watching television, sitting on the settee without a back rest and allowing your feet to dangle cause the back to form a perfect ‘C’, which is the most imperfect posture for the spine. She and other spine specialists share certain tips that serve as a handy guide to get the right posture.
The spine, also known as the vertebral column or spinal column, is composed of a series of bones called vertebrae that are stacked one upon another. “If you want to keep your spine healthy, sit as little as possible. To maintain the perfect ‘S’ posture, sit on a chair, which is at an angle of 105 degrees, and slide your hips to the very end of it. If you are short, balance your feet on a stool low enough so that it does not raise the knees above the thighs,” suggests Dr Anandani.
Most people stand with their stomachs protuding out, which puts pressure on the back and weakens the oblique abdominal muscles. Another incorrect posture is to push the shoulder forward and hips outward, which weakens the abdominal muscles and the extensor muscles, which are attached to the posterior (back) of the spine and enable us to stand and lift object. Dr Anandani advises the correct way to stand is to hold your head above the shoulders and your shoulders above your hips.
The common mistake that people commit is sleeping on their stomachs. “Turn on your side and tuck a cushion between your thighs. This maintains the arched or lordotic back. If you want to sleep on the back, pull your knees up and tuck a cushion between them,” says Dr Anandani.
Bridging: Tuck your tummy in and take your hips off the mat and hold, says Dr Khushboo Avlani
Stretch it out
According to spine specialists across the world, 80 to 85 per cent of back pains have unknown causes. While it’s a myth that all obese persons are prone to backache, a sedentary lifestyle coupled with fat on the waist contributes to back pain as well. If one doesn’t exercise and strengthen the muscles, then back pain can be a recurring issue.
While pain and discomfort are the common precursor symptoms for back problems, fatigue can also lead to back problems, according to Prachi Shah, assistant professor at School of Science, SVKM’s NMIMS University. “Fatigue causes the body posture to slouch, which strains the spine,” says Shah, explaining how physiotherapists in Mumbai follow McKenzie school of thought which divides mechanical back problems into three syndromes — postural between 30 to 35 years of age, dysfunctional pain due to adaptive positioning of tissues not treating which leads to the third syndrome, derangement, which, in turn causes structural damage to the spine. “So, for young professionals under 35, it is best to correct the posture with exercise.”
People are advised to check for deficiencies in B12 and D vitamins for aches. According to Dr Gautam Shetty, an orthopaedic surgeon and research-director at Qi Spine Clinic, stretching is a must to keep that spine intact. “When one stretches, the particular spine muscles, bones, the disc between the vertebra and ligament — which are all moving structures — are introduced to new postures. This conditions the body for an activity,” he says but warns against popping pills as they can be detrimental in the long run. “When people pop pills, they suppress the back problem, and since the pain disappears, they tend to be careless. Back pain, if ignored, can radiate to the buttocks, thighs and even all the way down to your feet. In today’s fast-paced life, it’s better to take the right precautions to save your back rather then be confined to the bed nursing an injury,” explains Dr Shetty.
Hot and cold
A hot water pack improves blood circulation in the affected area, numbs the pain and is useful in cases of spasms. However, a cold pack should be used when there is an acute injury. Diabetics should not use a hot water bag as it reduces sensitivity in the area and can cause a burning sensation. Similarly, a cold pack should be used only for five-10 minutes at a stretch. Both hot and cold packs should not be used for more than 15 minutes.
Know your spine
The spine makes up the central nervous system (CNS), along with the brain, and relies on the peripheral nervous system, the millions of nerves that send messages to the brain that control the body’s functions. Thus, a dysfunction in the spine can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms and legs, impaired breathing and digestion and impaired control of the bowel and bladder.