Looking After the Maturing Spine
My mother is 72 yrs old and has aches and pains in her back every day. Since I can remember when I was a boy, she has lost a few inches of height and become slightly hunchbacked due to the following reasons that can all lead to aching and pain:
- poor posture and slouching;
- the discs in her back have lost fluid and consequently lost height;
- the bones in her back (vertebrae) have a little osteoporosis so have slightly wedged and aren’t rectangular anymore like a younger spine; and
- a couple of bones in her back (thoracic spine around bra strap level) have actually fractured due to osteoporosis.
When you combine all of these factors, there is no surprise that she feels aches and pains every day. I am not going to give you any advice around osteoporosis as this is a medical issue that you need to see your GP about, but I am going to give you some advice that can help maintain your spine in good health, or restore it to an optimal condition.
Maintaining an upright non-slouched posture is absolutely critical to preventing hunching and eventually pain in your maturing years.
The key to maintaining upright postures is to not SIT for prolonged periods of the day (i.e. more than 30 minutes at a time). Prolonged sitting at a computer at a desk is an absolute killer for spinal health. It is almost impossible to maintain a good sitting posture for over 1-2 hours which will inevitably lead to back pain and stiffness.
However, I am a realist, so I know most of us sit for 8-10 hours a day at work, in the car and then at home. But you have to incorporate strategies into your day to break up long sustained periods of sitting.
Drinking loads of water during the day helps to prevent prolonged sitting as a) you need to fill up water bottle and b) you need to visit the toilet. Drinking sufficient water is also key to maintaining hydration of the discs in your spine.
Setting an alarm on your computer on Outlook works really well to remind you to stand and stretch. Stretching out your chest muscles is really important to counter the effects of slouching and working on your computer all day. For a series of stretches you can do anywhere, read our article How to Relieve Back Pain.
Use BakBalls while sitting in your desk chair and arch back over it every 30 minutes to stretch your back muscles and help you maintain a good posture throughout the day.
Back muscle strength
Strengthening your back muscles is also really important to ensure your muscles can hold you up all day in sitting against gravity. A simple exercise is to lie on your stomach with your arms above your head, and lift your arms and head and chest off the floor and hold for 5-10 seconds and lower yourself down and repeat 10 times. This strengthens the muscles that hold us up against gravity whilst sitting.
The (almost) perfect pill for pain free spinal health and good posture is 30 minutes of general exercise every day. If you truly look at your day, most of us don't do 30 minutes of exercise more than once or twice a week. It is absolutely critical for being pain-free and yet most of it don't do it and complain of sore backs. Walking is the simplest form of exercise but find whatever works well for you such as swimming, cycling, gym, exercise classes, sports etc.
So to avoid back pain follow these tips and you can hopefully enjoy a pain free existence into your maturing years. If you have any questions about back and neck care, don't hesitate to email Olympic Sports Physiotherapist and designer of BakBalls, Mark Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.