Shock Absorbers of the Spine

They bulge, herniate, degenerate and tear, but they don’t “slip.” Discs serve as the “shock absorbers” of your spine and your entire body.

Your discs act as a spacer and separate each vertebra.  The space they create allows spinal nerves to exit the spinal cord and so you can turn and bend without being pinched or irritated. Your discs are actually rings of very tough fibrous tissue called the annulus.  Inside the annulus is a soft jelly center.

Bulging Disc: A weakened area of the annulus allows the soft center of the disc to bulge out, putting pressure on nearby nerves. Bulging discs usually respond well to chiropractic care, often eliminating the need for surgery.

Herniated Disc: A herniated or ruptured disc is more serious and tends to be most common in the lower back. This is when part of the soft center pushes out through a weakened area due to trauma or degeneration, putting pressure on the spinal cord.   

The good news is that chiropractic care, along with walking, increased water intake and improved nutrition offer a natural, non-surgical resolution for herniated discs, as well as other disc and spinal problems. Below are some more specific tips for taking care of your intervertebral discs:

How to protect your discs

1.  Improve your posture

Your spine has a series of natural curves, and if your sitting posture does not support these arches, over time, you may damage your sensitive spinal nerves. Sitting increases the load on your spinal discs by 40%—which may cause them to generate pain over time or herniate, causing spinal nerve inflammation or compression.

If you have a job that involves a lot of sitting, take time to adjust your office chair and desk to make them ergonomically aligned to support your spine. Other options are to work at a stand-up desk or sit on an exercise ball for a portion of the day. It is also important to stretch and walk around every hour.

2.  Put down the cell phone!

Text neck is very real, causing a reversal of the normal neck curve and premature degeneration (decay) of the cervical discs…leading to all kinds of issues.

3.  Use good body mechanics when lifting heavy objects…or get help!  

Follow these tips to avoid compressing the spinal discs or straining your lower back when you are lifting:

  • Keep a wide base of support. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other (karate stance).
  • Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If needed, put one knee to the floor and your other knee in front of you bent at a right angle (half kneeling).
  • Keep good posture. Look straight ahead, and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. This helps keep your upper back straight while having a slight arch in your lower back.
  • Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back). Keep your back straight, and don’t twist as you lift.
  • Hold the load as close to your body as possible, at the level of your belly button.
  • Use your feet to change direction, taking small steps.
  • Lead with your hips as you change direction. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.
  • Set down your load carefully, squatting with the knees and hips only.

Keep in mind:

  • Do not attempt to lift by bending forward. Bend your hips and knees to squat down to your load, keep it close to your body, and straighten your legs to lift.
  • Never lift a heavy object above shoulder level.
  • Avoid turning or twisting your body while lifting or holding a heavy object.

4.  Sleep on a firm, supportive mattress and Match your pillow to your sleeping position

When you lie down to sleep, use a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and lower back. Depending on your sleep position, you will need different kinds and placement of pillows.

If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow to ensure your neck and head are positioned in the middle of your shoulders. Also, consider placing a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your lower spine.

If you sleep on your back, use a medium thickness or flat pillow so that your neck is not propped up too high. Also, place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the normal curvature of your lower back.

As a general rule, avoid sleeping on your tummy or curling up too much in a fetal position as these positions can make your back more susceptible to injury and pain.

4.  Quit smoking (or don’t start)!

Smoking increases your likelihood of developing degenerative spinal disorders and back pain by damaging the vascular structures of your spinal discs and joints.  Quitting is difficult, but there are many strategies, like Acupuncture, that have worked for thousands of people.

5.  Maintain a healthy weight!

According to weight-loss experts and chiropractors, weight loss can contribute to a partial or complete reduction in back pain symptoms. The research on the connection between weight loss and back pain is still insufficient but numerous practitioners, including me, report that they’ve seen cases of patients experiencing a serious reduction in pain after losing weight.

Obviously, this occurs because the extra weight is taken off the spine. As a result, the spine doesn’t experience further stress. Especially when a chiropractor realigns the vertebral column through multiple sessions of chiropractic adjustments.

If you need help dropping those excess pounds, click here, I can help! 

6.  Eat a nutritionally dense diet!

Your daily diet plays an important role in maintaining the health of your spine. Try limiting your diet mostly to foods you would find in nature—vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains, and legumes, which are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.  Eating foods that are high in calcium and other nutrients and vitamins, such as oatmeal can help prevent spinal problems like osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.  Eventually, try to eliminate processed foods, and make sure to limit unhealthy sweets to an occasional treat. When you eat a healthy diet, over time, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, reducing pressure on your spine and minimizing back pain.

7.  Drink a lot of pure, clean water! 

Our discs will successfully rehydrate themselves during the night, and also during the day with good movement, as long as there are adequate water levels within the body. When there is not enough water available to fully hydrate the gelatinous center, the whole disk becomes compromised.

8.  Get regular exercise like walking! 

Exercise is essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy spine—and it can also aid in the rehabilitation of an injured spine.  You don’t need to be an expert in physical fitness to indulge your spine with regular exercise. A simple exercise program that focuses on stretching and strengthening the back, hamstrings, and abdominal muscles can go a long way toward:

  • Distributing nutrients into your spinal discs and soft tissues
  • Reducing inflammation and accelerating your healing process
  • Keeping your muscles, ligaments, and joints healthy

While some people like to exercise in the morning, others prefer to work out in the evening. An initial period of trial and error will help you figure out the best time to exercise. Always remember to start slow and take guidance from a trained professional, if necessary.

The benefits of walking are plentiful, including:  (1)Strengthening your core muscles that keep your body upright, (2) Nourishing your spinal soft tissues with necessary nutrients, (3) Increasing the flexibility of your spine, (4) Improving balance, and (5) Strengthening your bone structure

Often, a doctor’s recommendation will be for you to walk as much as can be tolerated. If you are new to walking, or if you’re dealing with pain, start out with a few short walks each day rather than a single long walk.

If you are ready for a little more movement but do not wish to join a gym, check out our ChiroBurst streaming exercise program.

9. Try pool workouts!

Exercising in a pool reduces the downward stress of gravity as the buoyancy of the water helps to support your spine, thus reducing the risk of injury or pain when you exercise. Also, the viscosity of water provides gentle resistance through friction.  If you don’t want to exercise, simply walk in the pool in waist-deep water to help strengthen your back.  Water therapy programs are usually taught in warm water, and many people find the warmth soothing on their joints.

10.  Get regular chiropractic check-ups!

Most spinal or disc problems are marked by a specific set of symptoms including neck and arm pain or even pain and tingling into the hands, back pain, and leg pain (sciatica), as well as stiffness and tenderness in the spinal muscles or the spine itself.

The preferable course of treatment for spinal problems is more conservative in nature. The earlier the problem can be diagnosed and treatment can begin, the better. Slipped Disc Treatment includes physio-therapies such as ultrasound, electric muscle stimulation, myofascial release, and ice, as well as chiropractic adjustments. There are many different ways to adjust the spine to achieve Herniated Disc Pain Relief and I have found that the Flexion-Distraction Technique and the gentle Thompson Drop Technique is often the best in the acute and most painful stage of recovery. The techniques used will always be customized to your needs.

Movement is also crucial to healing and the sooner the patient gets back on their feet, the better. For most injuries or back problems, those problems are exacerbated when the patient stays in bed or coddles their back instead of walking and moving. It can result in long-term back problems.

Spinal manipulation by a doctor of chiropractic has been proven to be an effective, safe treatment for disc problems and associated pain. In some cases, therapeutic exercise may be added to the treatment and this too has been shown to be very effective.

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