What if preventing spinal degeneration were as easy as flossing your teeth?
I find myself coming back to the topic of spinal health frequently because I see the ill effects of poor spinal health daily in clinical care. Unfortunately, this topic is uncommon in our education systems, so spinal health is usually a reactive consequence of spine-related pain and reduced function.
Except for the impromptu discussion of postural development during physical education and the middle school scoliosis check, awareness of spinal function is simply not emphasized. As a result spine-related health problems, including degeneration of the vertebral discs is very prevalent. What if spinal health were emphasized to children and adults as dental health is today?
Arguably, some degeneration of the discs is expected with age; however degeneration also is a cumulative function of daily wear and tear (to include excess body weight and poor body mechanics), trauma and injury. I started using the phrase “floss your spine” with my patients as a euphemism for “do your spinal exercises.” I developed this tactic in an effort to connect them to self-care strategies they already associate with healthy behaviors and to encourage good daily habits associated with prevention.
Similar to the healthy behaviors related to the proactive care of one’s teeth, taking care of the spine can be just as easy. Let’s start with the biannual checkups and cleanings; it’s been my experience that my patients who frequently have preventative spinal checkups seem to fair better. They get an opportunity to have their alignment checked and corrected if necessary, their home exercises reviewed, and their back strength retested. This not only keeps them well-aligned, but it also keeps them accountable to their spinal health.
Just as we use our teeth to do the work of feeding our system, so do we use our spine all day to support our activities. Can you imagine going one day without flossing or brushing your teeth? Why then would we expect to use our spine day in and day out, not do anything to care for it, and expect not to have problems?
Similarly, just as there is significant benefit to the daily care of one’s teeth, so there are daily self-care strategies that will reverse the cumulative effect of upright human motion, especially when abused with prolonged poor postures. Additionally, daily self-care strategies will decrease the potential for significant spinal degeneration.
When I tell my patients to “floss their spine,” I’m simply reminding them to do their spinal exercises.
The simplest of these is called a “prone press-up.” It mimics the “cobra pose” in yoga, whereby the spine is extended (bending backwards) from a prone (facedown) position by using one’s arms only. This can help decompress the discs and reverse the daily effect of forward bending, thereby slowing down the degenerative effects of time. If you have advanced degeneration or other significant issues, this exercise may not be right for you. If doing press-ups causes pain, stop and consult specialist in spinal care. Of course the “prone press-up” is one of many exercises that if practiced daily can significantly improve your quality of life.
— Sevak Khodabakhshian is a doctor of chiropractic with Thousand Oaks-based Omega Rehab & Sport, where a team of physical therapists, chiropractors and athletic trainers applies an active-care approach to healthcare. He can be reached for comments, questions or suggestions by e-mail, at Sevakk@omega-rehab.com.