One important concept in spine care is making the patient an active participant in their rehabilitation. It’s important to change our sedentary lifestyles so that we not only get well, but also do things that prevent problems from occurring in the first place. But first, it is important to understand how back injuries occur. When we bend and twist and pick up things, tremendous forces are placed on the disks and ligaments of the spine. It’s important for muscles to be coordinated and flexible so you have maximum strength to resist.
Hopefully you’ve begun an exercise program. One of the more neglected areas of daily spinal hygiene is stretching. By stretching the muscles that move the bones and joints, we make them more flexible. This can make you more resilient at resisting heavy or awkward loads.
The important thing is to do stretches correctly. In general you want to be warm when you stretch. If you’re not too warm, then proceed slowly, gradually bringing more circulation to the area. After a long walk is a good time to stretch. You can also do stretches throughout the day, even in your office chair. Simple hand and shoulder stretches can be done at the computer, and can help to release tension in the shoulders and wrists.
It’s helpful to hold the stretch for at least 40 seconds so that the muscles have a chance to respond and elongate, and do not bounce, or move in a quick or rapid way.
If you have a back or other joint injury, it’s important that certain stretches are avoided, because they can further increase the stretch on ligaments. For example, you may not be able to touch your toes right now, but there are better ways to gain this flexibility than through toe-touching stretches. This is because bending forward can also aggravate a lower back condition. Instead you can bring the leg up to stretch the back of the thigh by placing the foot on a chair or table (acting as ballet bar). By keeping the low back in good upright posture, the back of the thigh is stretched while also lowering the stress on the spinal disks.
Paying attention to these simple preventive measures can be worth a pound of cure down the road.