When you think about staying healthy, what behaviors come to mind? If you’re like most people, your thoughts immediately gravitate to things like eating well, exercising, skincare, and drinking enough water—all things that have visible outward effects. If you eat well and exercise, you’ll maintain a healthy weight. If you drink plenty of water and follow a skincare routine, you’ll have clear skin. We tend to give far less thought to our internal wellness, such as our skeletal structure. Yet bone health—particularly spine health—is crucial to our overall well-being.
If you’re an able-bodied, mobile, and relatively healthy adult, you probably give very little thought to your spine on a day-to-day basis. That’s not unusual—most of us take our spine for granted. But we shouldn’t. Our spine is, in a very real sense, the load-bearing support beam for our body. It holds us upright and allows us to stand and move. Without our spine, we would be immobile and inflexible. Our lives—and our species!—would be completely different.
Why Does Spine Health Matter?
Spine health is connected to the well-being of many different internal organs, systems, and processes. Spinal injuries can have devastating consequences, such as paralysis or even death. The spine is also part of our central nervous system; damage to any part of that system can wreak havoc on the rest of the body.
“A healthy spine is an often overlooked and essential part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Jeremy Hayes, D.C. Chiropractic Director of Chiro One Wellness Center of Flossmoor. “Every day, millions of Americans suffer from misalignments in their spine that if left untreated, can lead to pain, health challenges and disease.”
Spine misalignments have been connected to symptoms such as migraines, headaches, numbness, tingling, pain, digestive issues, poor concentration, and sleep disorders. Does that surprise you? Read on to learn why the spine is so essential to your health.
Your Spine and Your Central Nervous System
Together, your brain and central nervous system control all bodily functions and activities. Your brain sends signals out through your central nervous system to different organs and muscles throughout your body. Your central nervous system then sends information from nerves and senses back to your brain in a continuous feedback loop.
When your body is healthy, this system self-regulates and keeps you healthy. However, when a vertebral misalignment interferes with this process, it impairs your brain’s ability to communicate with various parts of your body, which can cause systems to start breaking down.
Your spine plays a crucial role in the central nervous system. You can think of your spinal cord as the seven-lane highway of your central nervous system. It is so important that it’s the only organ in your body to be protected by its own coat of armor—your spine. Damage to your spine results in damage to your spinal cord, which interferes with the central nervous system, which impairs communication between your brain and your organs, tissue, and muscles, which leads to degeneration and disease.
That’s why spine health is so essential.
How to Keep Your Spine Healthy
Now you know not to take your spine for granted. It enables you to stand, walk, run, bend, and helps keeps your whole body healthy. Here are a few tips for how to keep your spine healthy both now and as you age.
- Don’t sit for longer than necessary. The discs in your lower spine receive 3x as much pressure when you sit versus when you stand. Yet Americans are spending more and more time sitting throughout the day. Take breaks to stand, walk, and stretch your legs. If you work a desk job, consider switching to a height-adjustable sit-stand desk.
- Pay attention to ergonomics. The ergonomics of how you sit and stand are just as important as how much time you spend doing each. Standing for half your day can still cause damage to your spine if you’re standing with poor posture. Make sure your office workstation is set up ergonomically, and use correct posture.
- Exercise regularly. Your spine supports your body, but it needs some support too. Toned back and abdominal muscles—what are commonly called your “core” muscles—provide essential support for your spine. Yet modern life makes it easy for these muscles to become weak and flabby. Keeping your body fit and toned will also help you stand with better posture and will prevent obesity, which can cause spinal problems.
- Protect your spine while you sleep. If you’ve ever woken up with a stiff neck or sore back, you already know that your sleeping position can affect your spine health. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, lifestyle factors such as sleeping position are the leading cause of back and spine problems. Learn which sleeping positions are good for your back—and which to avoid.
- See a chiropractor. Already having problems? Consider seeing a chiropractor. Chiropractors focus on your spine health and how it connects to your overall well-being. If you already have misalignments that are causing symptoms such as pain, headaches, or mental fogginess, a chiropractor can target specific areas to realign your vertebrae.
Now that you understand the importance of spine health to your overall well-being, what changes will you make to your lifestyle to protect your spine and promote spine health for years to come?