The spinal column runs the length of the neck and back. It protects the spinal cord, maintains proper posture and enables the head, neck and trunk to move smoothly. To perform these functions, the spine must remain strong, mobile and responsive.
One key to spine health is good posture. Besides improving your balance and circulation, avoiding poor posture helps you avoid straining the joints, muscles and surrounding tissues in your neck, shoulders, back and knees. Posture-related problems are becoming more common as our lives become more sedentary and computer driven.
Practicing good posture provides a number of advantages. These include:
• Keeping the bones and joints in correct alignment.
• Decreasing abnormal strain on the discs and joints.
• Decreasing stress on the ligaments that hold the joints of the spine together.
• Preventing the spine from becoming fixed in abnormal positions as we age.
• Limiting fatigue because you are using the muscles more efficiently, allowing the body to use less energy.
• Eliminating backache and muscular pain.
• Contributing to a good appearance.
Poor posture places strain on the spine, including the discs, ligaments and joints. Sitting with poor posture for a long period causes the nucleus of the disc to move toward the back of the disc. Eventually this leads to a bulging disc. This bulge can pinch the nerves, causing pain, weakness and tingling in the arms and legs.
If you work sitting down, be sure that your chair is suited to good posture. You should have a space of about two inches between the edge of the chair and the back of your knees. The seat’s height is correct if your knees form approximately a 90-degree angle, and your feet are flat on the floor. When viewing a computer monitor, the top of the screen should be at or below your eye level.
You can improve your standing posture with the following: With your feet apart and knees slightly bent, tighten your stomach muscles — imagine someone is pulling you up by a string attached to the top of your head and that two straight, vertical lines are connecting your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and heels. Standing in this way maintains the natural curves of your back, reducing stress along the spine.
You also can help prevent neck and back pain by moving your body regularly. Avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time. Perform regular, simple exercises such as stretches. A physical therapist can help you identify stretches that will keep your spine healthy.
Listening to your body and its pain signals also can help you maintain a healthy spine. Pain acts as the body’s alarm system, letting you know that something is wrong. Ignoring spinal pain or loss of normal movement in the neck and back can lead to chronic problems that are difficult to resolve. If you experience pain, you should seek help if it does not resolve fully in five to seven days.
The Spine Center of Excellence at Northern Nevada Medical Center offers free 15-minute appointments to assess your neck and back pain and provide treatment recommendations.
Following the assessment, treatment that is designed for your specific needs throughout the entire continuum of care will help ensure a better outcome. This treatment advances gradually and could include physical therapy, pain management and alternative medicine. Surgery is usually the last resort, although impressive developments in spinal surgery have led to greatly improved outcomes.
The Spine Center of Excellence provides a comprehensive program designed to reduce your neck and back pain and restore you to a healthy, active lifestyle. The experienced team of experts assembled at NNMC uses pioneering techniques and technology to help you return to a fulfilling life.
I also offer a free monthly seminar on neck and back pain on April 23 from noon to 1 p.m. at NNMC. To schedule a free appointment or to attend the seminar, call 356-4960.
Steven Hallan is director of Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine at Northern Nevada Medical Center, located in the Sparks Medical Office Building at 2385 E. Prater Way, Suite 301. He has 15 years of experience as an outpatient physical therapist. Hallan is a credentialed McKenzie therapist, specializing in disorders of the spine and peripheral joint problems.