The saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” This is true when it comes to many different things, but for this month’s blog we are talking spinal hygiene/mobility/joint health. This is something we talk about everyday with our patients, and even ourselves. Not only are we helping facilitate and promote spinal health with our chiropractic adjustments, but also with the stretches and mobility movements we constantly show patients. Unfortunately most patients don’t do them. I am always asking patients if they did their “homework” I gave them at their last visit, and the answer is usually “no.” Many eventually try it, but like with everything concerning health, consistency is key.
Every patient who walks through our doors gets a set of x-rays taken so we can see what is going on with their spine, with the exception of kids younger than 5. We typically take 3 radiographs from the front (low back, mid back, neck), showing overall alignment of the spine in the frontal plane. In a perfect world, the spine will be straight up and down. We do not live in a perfect world, but there are degrees of normalcy. I do not like to see any bends, rotations, tilts, or translations of anything pictured. From the side, we usually take 2 radiographs (low back, neck). From this view we DO want to see curves in the spine. We also want to see square smooth bones and even disc heights throughout the spine. If we have all of that, we have a NORMAL spine. In reality, we rarely see this (even in chiropractors).
A normal healthy spine should move freely and easily. Each bone in the spine should be able to move independently of the bone above and below it. The vertebral bones should be able to flex, extend, rotate, and laterally bend. When these bones get stuck (subluxation), they can wreak havoc on the nervous system, but we are talking about the structure of the spine in this blog. When the bones don’t move properly, it creates a fixation at the joint which can cause inflammation, improper biomechanics, and eventually degeneration. Degeneration sets in a lot faster than we think it does, but it is the long term immobility which allows us to see structural change on x-rays. We will often see loss of curvature, rough edges around the bones, and even loss of disc height. When the spine doesn’t move properly, it is easy for degeneration to set in, and is actually one of the top reasons the break down begins. “Motion is lotion” is another common phrase I use in the office.
The chiropractic adjustment helps restore motion to these immobile segments allowing proper range of motion of that spinal segment, and the spine overall. Think of it this way, we are taking the gunk out of the gears. Consistent adjustments over a long enough period of time can restore proper motion to the full spine. This is one of the many reasons we recommend a corrective plan for our patients. One of the main goals is to get the spine moving normally. If a joint moves how it should, it is almost impossible for that joint to degenerate. If you’d like to geek out with me on the science of what happens when a joint stops moving, you can read that here.
Keeping your spine healthy is more than just adjustments. It involves DAILY movement of your body. Humans no longer move as much as they are supposed to, which is why we are seeing a rise in sedentary diseases. I took a seminar last year where the instructor mentioned that 10k steps is only 40% of what we are wired to do. There is no shortage of ways one can get their bodies moving. Yoga is great for full body movement, alignment, and spinal health. It is what most people probably think of when they think of spinal hygiene. There are programs that emphasize natural movements like MovNat, The Ready State or GMB Fitness. Personally, I do Jiu Jitsu, which some people call “murder yoga.” It is a great way to improve range of motion in every aspect, but there is definitely a risk of injury with any martial art. The easiest thing someone can do, which I’m constantly recommending, is just going through your normal range of motion movements. For example, doing 10 reps of neck flexion/extension, 10 reps of neck rotation from side to side, and 10 reps of neck lateral flexion from side to side is a super beneficial way to make sure your neck is moving how it should. This can be done as much as you’d like, but I typically recommend a couple times a day. I equate this exercise to “greasing the gears.” This ROM style exercise can be done for any joint in the body to help promote joint health.
A good rule of thumb is to move your joints the number of times of your age per day. So, 30 reps if you are 30 years old. You should double that if you’re injured. Along with the programs mentioned above, there is no shortage of mobility trainers on social media with an endless array of exercises one can do for their spine/body.
Joseph Pilates said “you are only as young as your spine.” When I put my hands on a patient, I can sense a general idea of their overall health based on what their spine and surrounding tissues feel like. Being able to feel how stiff or springy a person’s spine is gives us a lot of insight into their structure and nervous system.
Structure begets function.
Take care of your spine. You only have one.