How can I protect my back?

Back and neck pain are very common, so is there something fundamentally ‘weak’ about the spine and how can we protect it?

The spine has 3 main functions:

  1. To protect the nerves of the spinal cord
  2. To support the weight of the body when upright
  3. To allow movement

The 33 vertebral bones protect the spinal cord and do an excellent job of it. The bones and particularly the cartilage discs, which act as shock-absorbers, take the weight of the body. Movement is enabled by dozens of vertebral facet joints and hundreds of muscles that attach to the spine.

When used correctly the spine is an incredible durable bit of kit. It can sustain lifting huge weights, as any weightlifter will attest. Equally it will support body movement for an ultra-marathon. The key when pushing any physical limits is to maintain good technique and to be progressive.

Spinal problems are very common, even without weightlifting or ultra-marathons. There is no flaw in the design of backs. The problem is that we have adopted ‘poor technique’ with day-to-day activity. A huge problem here is technology. We all drive instead of walking. Recreation is screen-based, not outdoors. We don’t work on farms or in factories, most of use work in a office, sat down, sedentary, hunched in front of a computer. Stress is no longer ‘fight or flight’ situations. Stress is the low-level, gnawing unease with money, family, bosses, deadlines, relationships, commuting.

Technology and chronic low-level stress have conspired to round our shoulders forward, crane out head forward, hunch our backs as we sit, and tighten the muscles in our shoulders, neck and low back. The spinal discs are under sustained pressure, and nerves can become pinched. The warning signs are subtle at first, back twinges, shoulder ‘burning’, pins & needles, headaches, restless sleep.

There are steps that can be taken to protect the spine. Key to that is good posture. This has to be something that is constantly on your mind. A bit of slouching is OK, but sitting upright should be the norm. The way to achieve this to start a little at a time. You can set a timer on your phone or computer to remind to you sit upright for, say, 10 seconds every 5 minutes. As the back muscles get used to this it becomes easier to increase the target. Eventually, sitting upright should become as easy as slouching, but this takes time and perseverance.

This is a great way to start re-training you back to support you as it was designed to do. For more tips and specific advice for you, see your chiropractor.