Few of us are ever taught how to maintain spinal health throughout life. This is a major reason why people lose their mobility and experience more pain with age.
Our cars, homes, furnaces, lawnmowers, snowblowers, etc., all require maintenance. When we maintain such equipment properly, it tends to operate more efficiently and last longer than if we don’t.
Can you imagine how often you’d have to replace your car if you never changed the oil?
Yet the concept of maintenance is lost on many people when it comes to our own bodies.
Health cannot be replaced as easily as a lawnmower, so it’s crucial that we take care of ourselves better than we take care of our belongings.
I am always surprised when a patient is truly confused as to why they suddenly have pain after years of sitting at a desk or engaging in hard physical labor, as though we should just be able to overburden our muscles, bones, and joints forever, without any kind of fallout.
I can tell you after two decades in practice that my patients who are proactive with their health as they age are more mobile, have less pain, and enjoy a greater quality of life than those who wait until there is a problem to engage in any kind of self-care.
What Is Spinal Health Maintenance?
I have a patient named Steve that I only see when he’s in so much pain that he can barely walk.
When he comes to see me, I always ask if he’s hurting or if he’s in my office to maintain his spinal health. He responds the same way every time, with some variation of, “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t in pain, doc.”
This is part of Steve’s problem. He sees healthcare as something you do only when there is an emergency. And since he only takes care of himself when there’s an emergency, he experiences more emergencies than he should.
I’m sure 100 dentists out of 100 would tell you that if you only visit them when you have tooth pain, you’ll have more incidents of tooth pain and other oral complications than if you flossed every day and got regular dental check-ups.
This is the idea behind spinal health maintenance.
If you’ve ever undergone a corrective program with a chiropractor, maintenance is imperative because you’re going to continue to stress and abuse your spine throughout life, just like it’s important to keep brushing your teeth because you’re going to keep eating, drinking coffee, eating sugar, etc.
How Often Should You Be Adjusted To Maintain Spinal Health?
Spinal maintenance is like wearing a retainer after you’ve had braces on your teeth. It’s designed to preserve the changes that have been made until the surrounding tissues can heal and the correction becomes permanent.
What would happen if you skipped the maintenance phase (retainer) once your teeth were healthy and straight? Eventually, you’d have crooked teeth again.
The most important part of spinal maintenance is done at home once spinal function has been improved.
There are yoga poses (links below) and exercises, as well as a list of activities to avoid, that will act as a retainer and keep your spine mobile and strong in daily life.
Not doing your home care will increase your need for more frequent adjustments, as well as the chances of spinal injuries and pain flare-ups.
Many factors help determine the frequency of adjustments necessary for spinal maintenance, including…
- Your Lifestyle
- Past Injuries
- Your Health Routine
- Presence of Degeneration
- Presence of Arthritis
- Your Level of Activity
- Your General Level of Wellness
And these are just a few.
Your chiropractor should determine what’s best for you based on his/her experience with adjusting you.
5 Best Ways To Maintain Spinal Health In Later Years
You probably learned a very important phrase in science class when you were young.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
And this is true when it comes to the human body, especially our muscles and joints.
Inactivity not only weakens muscles and causes them to atrophy (waste away), but it also causes scar tissue to build up in our joints that will ultimately reduce our range of motion and cause more aches and pains when we perform seemingly mundane tasks.
Since inactivity is a major catalyst for the breakdown of muscles and joints, we maintain our mobility best by MOVING.
*Talk with a licensed health care practitioner before beginning a new health care regimen or changing your current one.
This is true even for those with arthritis or spinal disc degeneration. In these cases, the trick is to move PROPERLY and in a way that is healthy since too much movement or the wrong kinds can worsen many spinal problems.
1. Bodyweight Exercise
The options here are endless. Bodyweight exercises are performed without the use of traditional weights like barbells and dumbbells. They strictly employ one’s own bodyweight as resistance. This allows for more functional, natural movements which can help strengthen joints and keep the muscle system balanced.
The best bodyweight exercises are the many variations of push-ups, pull-ups, planks, and squats.
You can search the internet for programs based on your fitness level and age. There are many.
I’ve written 3 articles outlining the simple, basic yoga poses that are best for spinal health. The following links will take you to them.
YouTube is also a great resource for free videos to follow.
3. Stay Active
It’s perfectly healthy and acceptable to binge on a TV series once in a while or to have a weekend when you do absolutely nothing, but it shouldn’t be your norm.
Prolonged periods of sitting can not only cause lower back and neck pain, but has also been linked to metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of death from degenerative illnesses like cardiovascular disease. (1)(2)
One list of scientific references caused the author to declare sitting a “serious health hazard.” (3)
Studies are even linking a sedentary lifestyle with many mood and mental disorders. (4)
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Staying active really isn’t hard to do. Housework, gardening, walking, hiking, dancing, playing with kids/grandkids, swimming, riding a bike, climbing a tree, etc., all count. Just get up and move your body.
Regular chiropractic care can be very advantageous for preventing many age related spinal problems and maintaining mobility.
Manual adjusting techniques, in my opinion, are best for achieving optimal spinal function.
5. Rest When Injured
Now that you better understand the importance of movement and exercise with regard to spinal health, it is equally important to realize that sometimes rest is your best option, especially when there is recurring or worsening pain or an injury that doesn’t seem to be healing.
Any pain or injury that you can’t explain or that isn’t improving should be evaluated by a professional.