Everyday Stretches for A Healthy Spine
The human spinal cord begins at the base of the brain and extends all the way to the pelvis. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is also part of the spine that is responsible for sending messages from the spinal cord to the rest of the body. People receive sensory input from their five senses that travel through the PNS nerves to the spinal cord and finally to the brain for processing. The brain then processes the signals and sends commands to various parts of the body. It is crucial to do everyday stretches to maintain a healthy spine.
Ascending tracts in the spinal cord deliver sensory input from body to the brain while descending tracts deliver messages from the brain to specific organs and tissues. Most people are unaware of how much spinal cord health matters for everyday functioning. For example, it is the spinal cord and not the brain that is responsible for the human reflex action. Therefore, a reflex action, such as pulling a hand away from a hot stove, is something that happens automatically.
The Spine and Brain Have Natural Protective Mechanisms
A protective outer core called meninges surrounds both the spinal cord and the brain. The meninges contain cerebrospinal fluid that helps with shock absorption and several other functions.
When the spinal cord sustains an injury, it can stop communication between the brain and the spine altogether. Severing of the spinal cord can result in severe disability such as paraplegia or quadriplegia. Certain types of birth defects can impact the spine as can benign or cancerous tumors.
Most never experience such significant damage to their spine. However, dealing with minor spinal injuries that cause back pain, shoulder pain, and other types of chronic discomfort is common. The key to preventing and overcoming them is to invest time each day towards spine care, such as stretching.
Simple Exercises to Improve Spine Health
According to the website Spine Universe, one of the most important things people can do to keep their spine healthy is engage in daily exercise and stretching. Here are three specifically recommended exercises:
● Aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming, biking, or tennis help to build strength and endurance as well as prevent the development of chronic health conditions. This includes back. neck, knee, hip, or shoulder pain. Everyone who is physically able to complete aerobic exercises should aim to do so two to three times per week.
● Range of motion exercises like bending and performing stretches help to prevent muscle stiffness and increase the flexibility of joints. Spending several minutes each day performing range-of-motion exercises goes a long way towards improving spinal cord health and function.
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● Strengthening exercises typically include lifting weights or working with gym equipment like a rowing machine. These exercises help to build strong muscles and support the spine. While people can safely engage in strengthening exercises every day, they should be certain to receive proper training on gym or in-home exercise equipment before using it for the first time. This is the best way to avoid serious injuries.
Another thing to consider is that excess body weight can put significant stress on the spine. According to Spine Universe, overweight or obese people who lose 10 to 15 percent of their body weight can expect a noticeable decrease of aches and pains associated with the spine.
Every Day Stretches for a Healthy Spine As Recommended by a Chiropractor
The website Well + Good published an article last year in which a staff reporter interviewed chiropractor Dr. Matt Cooper. Dr. Cooper also founded USA Sports Therapy. He reiterates that a healthy spine is critical for posture and everyday movements while adding that it improves the core strength necessary for strong athletic performance.
Dr. Cooper notes that people with poor posture tend to have knee, hip, back, and shoulder pain. He feels that devoting time to daily spine care exercises is the best way to improve overall health and maintain good mobility throughout life. As a chiropractor, Dr. Cooper understands the importance of daily spine exercises and takes the time to complete them himself.
Four Specific Spine Stretches
Back extensions: Dr. Cooper explains that extending the spine regularly is essential for a healthy back. The largest group of muscles in the back are the erector spinae and their primary purpose is to extend the back. He advises people to start from a neutral position to achieve the greatest increase of strength in the back. The most common way to complete back extension exercises is to lie face down on a large ball or rolled-up pillow or flat on the floor. The next step is to lift the chest off the ground from the chosen position.
Bird dog: This spine exercise involves getting down on the floor on the hands and knees. If the surface is hard or uncomfortable, place an exercise mat underneath the hands and knees. The next step is to kick one leg behind while extending the opposite arm at the same time. Hold each pose for 10 seconds before switching to the opposite leg and arm. Dr. Cooper states that doing this exercise each day helps to strengthen back muscles and core, which includes the group of erector spinae muscles.
Figure four stretch: People with frequent back pain often have issues with their hip flexors. Stretching these muscles regularly is the ideal way to overcome back pain. The figure four stretch starts by lying on the back and stretching the left foot over the right knee. The foot should remain flexed while pushing the left knee out and while pulling the right knee towards the chest. Aim to hold this position for at least 10 seconds before switching sides.
Knee to chest hamstring stretch: Tight hamstrings are a common cause of back pain. Stretching the hamstrings as often as possible without overdoing it should help relieve the pain. Keep in mind that completing hamstring stretches too vigorously can result in lower back pain from irritating the disc. Proper knee-to-chest hamstring stretches involve pulling one knee towards the chest while taking care to hold onto it with both hands. This action should produce a noticeable pull in the hamstring area. After holding this position for several seconds, switch to the opposite knee and do the same.
Other Spine Care Tips
Most people understand the importance of consistent quality sleep. However, achieving a good night’s sleep can be challenging when lying on an unsupportive mattress. An old, lumpy mattress or one without proper lumbar support can result in chronic back pain and muscle fatigue. A quality mattress, on the other hand, encourages people to sleep in a neutral position that allows them to wake up feeling more refreshed and without back pain.
Sleep position also matters. Those who lie on their back for most of the night may find that their lower back, neck, and shoulders feel stiff upon awakening. Making a conscious effort to go to sleep in a different position such as lying on the right or left side takes some pressure off the spine.
Do not hesitate to visit a doctor or chiropractor if these exercises and tips fail to relieve spine problems. Often, ongoing pain could indicate a health condition that requires additional treatment. A doctor or chiropractor can also perform in-depth testing to determine the cause of the problem and recommend physical therapy or other solutions to treat it.