Why do we take better care of our teeth than our spines?
As a chiropractor, I think a lot about spines. A few years ago, I was wondering how much healthier I am because I am under chiropractic care, and how I can get adjusted whenever I like (how lucky am I?).
Then I thought, “why don’t we have daily care for our spines, like brushing and flossing serves for our teeth?” If we did, we could help maintain the work the chiropractor does, ensuring our adjustments hold as long as possible.
The dental profession has done a good job of teaching us to take care of our teeth and not to depend on the dentist for daily care. If chiropractors would teach people how to do spinal maintenance, would we have healthier spines?
Our spine is made of 24 pairs of joints
Joints are supposed to move. Think of your fingers, knees, hips, etc. Each of those joints enables a range of motion. If they weren’t needed we would have evolved differently: Longer bones, incapable of movement.
The spine is the same. The fact that the spine flexes, extends, bends to the side and twists is what enables us to tie our shoes, reach into the back seat of our cars and look up at the stars.
We need to encourage this movement and engage in moving the spine every day.
“Ok Ginger, figure it out!”
Since I understand the spine better than most people, I decided I was a good candidate to figure out what “brushing and flossing” for our spines should involve. So, I started with the thought, “what would make my spine most ready for the motion it will do each day?”
The easiest movement for the spine is forward and back. The motion that enables this movement most easily is cat cow. The position starts on all fours. The movement is flexion and extension. During an exhale curl your spine forward, tucking your chin towards your chest and your tailbone towards your naval.
Then on the inhale, look up to the ceiling and tilt your tail up as well. Repeat. If each of us did 10-12 cat cows every day, I expect that my practice would see a lot less people.
The next easiest movement is side to side. I put my hands over my head and lean left, hold for four breaths, then lean right and do the same. I then put my hands down and take my ear to each shoulder for four breaths, to stretch the neck side to side.
Be careful of twisting
While I already stated that the spine is capable of twisting, that doesn’t mean that it likes it. The muscles that support the spine rather like twisting; but the joints, and especially the discs, do not.
Fun fact, you are taller in the morning than at night!
This is due to the fact that our discs swell when we are sleeping. It takes about an hour for the extra hydration in the disc to work its way out. If you have a tendency for a disc to bulge or protrude it will be more pronounced in the mornings. That is why people with herniated discs frequently hurt more in the mornings. Research has proven that 90% of disc herniations occur when the spine is under a load with rotation.
So, since we’re trying to do good things for our spine, getting it ready for the stresses of the day, avoiding twisting that first hour you are awake is smart. Later in the day is a better time to engage in spinal twists, for those of you who love that stretch.
Can I really feel better with half as many adjustments?
I have been doing these stretches for years. But it took less than 2 weeks for me to notice that my range of motion had improved. Now I receive about half the adjustments I used to get. I give 100% of the credit to brushing and flossing my spine. Patients that follow this advice find they hold their adjustments longer and even alleviate some of the aches and pains that can occur between treatments.
If you like this way of thinking about your spine, I will be doing more instructive blogs and videos regarding the importance of self-care, especially stretching. But for now, I leave you with the thought of moving your spine in the way it was designed to move. Your spine is important! Treat it that way.