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Straighten Up and Move!

This Sunday, 16th October is World Spine Day, which aims to raise awareness about prevention and treatment of back pain and spinal disability. The theme for World Spine Day 2016 is “Straighten Up and Move”, which focuses on the importance of physical activity and improving posture in maintaining good spinal health and preventing injury.

The spine is made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae, separated by the intervertebral discs, which are made up of a tough, flexible outer casing, filled with a jelly-like substance. The discs act like shock absorbers in between the vertebrae. The spine is supported by muscles of the back, which need to be strong in order to prevent damage to the spine due to injury, poor posture, or degenerative diseases such as arthritis. If the spine slips out of its correct alignment, these muscles go into spasm and become inflamed, leading to pain and stiffness.  The muscles, misaligned bones, or protruding discs may also pinch the nerves or blood vessels in the surrounding areas, leading to problems such as sciatica and headaches.

Research has demonstrated that poor posture and inactivity are major contributors to the development of back pain and other spinal disorders. According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults, and over 80% of adolescent population are not active enough. In order to strengthen the back muscles and avoid injury it is important to take regular exercise, which does not cause high impact to the spine. Walking, swimming and yoga are ideal, but take care to start gently, and build up gradually as your strength improves.

Try to maintain a good posture when standing and walking: Imagine there is an invisible cord attached to the top of your head which lifts you into a tall posture with your shoulders relaxed. Avoid hunching over the sink or desk by placing the washing up bowl on the draining board, and by doing paperwork on tilted surface. When lifting, bend your knees not your back, and keep your feet apart to maintain stability. Carry large objects against your body, and when carrying shopping bags try to balance the load equally in both hands. Bend your knees and not your back when doing jobs such as gardening.

Orthodox treatment for back pain usually consists of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs. These are very helpful for relief of pain and inflammation in the short term, but they do not address the underlying cause of the pain, such as misalignment of the spine, and they are often associated with side effects such as gastritis and stomach ulcers when used long term. Fortunately, there are a number of natural treatments that can be very effective.

Acupuncture has been shown in clinical trials to be highly effective for reliving back pain. Herbs such as devil’s claw and willow have a natural anti-inflammatory action, cramp bark helps to ease muscle spasm, and St. John’s wort is second to none for treating nerve damage and irritation.  Useful supplements include glucosamine and chondroitin, which help to maintain the integrity of the tissues, fish oils which help to reduce inflammation, and magnesium which reduces muscle spasm.

Where back pain is associated with injury or misalignment of the spine, McTimoney chiropractic is a particularly gentle but very effective form of treatment, which helps to align the spine and relieve the pressure on nerves and blood vessels. Prescription orthotics can also be very helpful for relieving back pain where this is due to misalignment of the feet or legs; and muscle tension and spasm can be effectively treated with massage.