MY Optimum Spinal Health Guide

Let’s have a chat about some of the implications of isolation. Whether you have been working from home, on unpaid leave or unfortunately out of work, there is one thing that you all have in common – a spine that needs considering. So that is why I have put together MY Optimum Spinal Health Guide.  

Before we go any further there are 2 important points that we need to cover off:

  1. Human beings are not designed to sit. In fact, evolution has crafted us to be upright and moving. If you look at the design of our joints, we have load bearing joints in our lower limbs and spine because we are what is known as bipedal (we stand upright and walk on two legs). This will be important to remember later.
  2. For our joints to remain healthy, they need to be moved regularly. Moving our joints allows them to get the required nutrients through lubrication and also eliminate any toxins that have built up. Movement is key when it comes to happy joints.

With the normal rhythms of life being disrupted we have been forced to adjust our routines and, for many people, this is resulting in unintended and undesirable consequences. Sure there are some positives, like not having to travel to and from work or getting to wear your trackies around the house all day (surely some new company policies will stem from this- Trackie Tuesday maybe???) On the flip side of these conveniences however, often lies some potential harm. Most of it revolves around being more sedentary than usual (remember joints need movement) as our incidental daily movements have reduced significantly.

Not going to work means that you don’t have to walk to or from the train station or carpark, you don’t have to navigate the stairs in your office, you don’t have to get up and walk to the meeting room or printer a couple of times a day. Instead, you can literally manage your entire work day from the one spot in your house. Even the odd trip to the loo will probably require less movement!

And what about all of that company investment in ergonomic chairs and stand up desks that you don’t get to utilise at home? When speaking to patients about their home home office, almost none of them have a set up that is optimal for their physical wellbeing. Even worse, given the unexpected nature of our current predicament, a lot of people don’t even have a home office. Instead they are forced to convert the kitchen table or couch into their new makeshift workstation. 

Now let’s refer back to the 2 points above to see how they relate. 

Whether you are working from home, on leave or out of work, it is more than likely that you are currently sitting more than usual. The more you sit the more potential you have for harm to your spine and your overall health. Have you heard that sitting is now being called the ‘new smoking’ such are the negative health impacts? Why is this so? Well let’s discuss this in terms of simple mechanics. 

When you are upright and on your feet, the weight of your body is dispersed through all of your joints in your feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine. However, when you sit you are removing al of the joints in your lower limbs and the result is the heaviest part of your body – your torso – is now being supported by the spinal joints – particularly those in the lower back.

What happens to my spinal joints when they are loaded with too much weight for too much time?

Great question (if I do say so myself). Remember point 2 from above? Our joints need movement. The sustained physical stress on the discs from sitting can cause a number of biochemical and structural changes which ultimately lead to the 3 D’s – degeneration, dysfunction and discomfort. The downstream consequences of this can further entrench the problem through altered neuromuscular control of the surrounding muscles and poor postural control (in simple terms more pain and more problems). It is no wonder that approximately 80% of the population will experience back pain in their lifetime!

I think you get the picture now. We need to make sure we consider how we are using our body in this interesting period we find ourselves in. So let’s talk about solutions. Let’s give you a recipe for saving your spine from the perils of isolation!

STEP 1: FRESHEN UP

Just like cleaning your teeth in the morning freshens your breath, your spine will also be freshened with a good clean. “But I don’t have a spine brush” I hear you say… No problem, because to clean your spine all you need to do is add movement! There are several ways to do this, with the fundamental part being repeatedly bending and twisting your spine in what are known as the 6 degrees of motion. Depending on how much time you have it will determine what type of activity is best for you.  Whether it be a range of movements I like to call ‘Spinal Cleaning’ or something more challenging like Yoga or Pilates.  The main point is, just like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz needed oil to move, so do your joints in the morning.  So lets get them moving 

ACTION: 

Choose one of the following to do in the morning. Don’t be afraid to switch it up too:

  • Spinal Cleaning (you can find a link to the exercises under the resources tab)
  • Yoga

STEP 2: GET YOUR ERGO ON

Establish a workspace at home. It can be anywhere (even the kitchen table) but you need to make sure that it is set up to promote good habits. It has to be a place that allows for you to set yourself up ergonomically, with the option to sit or stand being the absolute sweet spot.

ACTION:

– Create an ergonomically sound home office setup. Don’t know how to set yourself up ergonomically? I have a worksheet for that too, just head to the resources tab again!

STEP 3: NO STATUES

If you’ve found a way to be on your feet whilst working, your back will be loving you! Unless you are standing still all day. Remember our joints need movement to nourish them and to clean out the unwanted stuff that builds up. The key thing here is to move regularly (every 15-20 minutes) and with lots of variety. The best way I have found to do this is to set a timer on your phone to remind you every 15-20 minutes, then work your way through a series of movements throughout the day (you could also download a widget for your computer). This could be as simple as holding onto your desk and squatting down and ‘bouncing’ in that position 4-5 times, walking to the other end of the house and back or quickly whipping through some of the “spinal cleaning” movements. If you find you have any particular spots in your body that bother you more than others, then make sure you target them.

ACTION:

  • Find a timer and set it to go off every 15-20 minutes.
  • Create a list of workspace applicable movements to work through. Or download MY Deskercises under the resources tab.

STEP 4:  TIME FOR A POLE DANCE

Or perhaps more accurately put, a pole lay. For this part you will need either a; foam roller that is at least as long as your spine or a couple of bath towels rolled up tightly (wrap some elastic bands around them to keep them tight). Even if you complete some or all of the above steps throughout the day you will still spend a lot of time with your arms in front of your body which will cause flexion of the spine (the rounding of the shoulders and head moving forward). At the end of the day we need to combat this and one of the best ways to do it is by lying on what we call a posture pole. The key here is to lay on top of something cylinder-like that runs up and down your spine, so you can let your arms hang out to the side and get some extension back into the upper back. Depending on your flexibility you can have your head on the roller or off the end either hanging or slightly extended onto a stack of magazines or something similar. 

ACTION:

STEP 5: SOME WITH THE LOT

Did you know that humans are meant to move their whole body for up to 3 hours per day? By this I mean low to moderate intensity activity ranging from where you are just able to talk without puffing to not being able to. That 30 minutes a day that you keep hearing about is the MINIMUM recommended dose, NOT the OPTIMUM (I know- brain snap). With that in mind you need to move your whole body in a fashion that causes some sweat and some puffing for MORE than 30 minutes each day. That could be running, intense walking, bodyweight training, HIIT, dancing, gardening, cleaning, just as long as it is whole body and challenging. Notice how I have steered clear of the word exercise… that is because the focus here is movement!. Again, variety is the key. 

ACTION:

  • Move your whole body in a way that causes some sweating and puffing for more than 30 minutes each day.

STEP 6: EASE THE TENSION

If you have followed the first 5 steps your body will be feeling great but we want to make sure that we don’t carry any of today’s issues into tomorrow. So, just like cleaning your teeth at the end of the day helps clear any mess that may have built up, one last lot of ‘spinal cleaning’ will help clear out any remaining tension and is a great way to finish your day off physically.

ACTION:

– Spinal cleaning to remove any tension remaining in the body.

So there you have it. Your recipe for Optimum Spinal Health. One thing to remember is that just like a fitness routine, the benefits will compound every day. Meaning as time goes on you will feel better and better. You can download the whole guide with all of the info sheets in the one document here.

Lastly, if there is anything that I would love for you to take away from this it’s this: 

Stay on your feet and move your joints regularly.

Stay on your feet and move your joints regularly.

Stay on your feet and move your joints regularly.

Happy (comfy) days!

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