Around the world people ‘bookend’ almost every day by cleaning their teeth. They do it in the morning to freshen their breath for the day ahead and before bed to clean out the waste that has accumulated across the course of the day. Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is an important preventative strategy that will stave off painful trips to the dentist (to both your mouth and wallet!) and the downstream effects of periodontal disease.
The fact that people look after their teeth with the level of consistency that they do is a phenomenal achievement from a public health perspective. However, I would suggest that looking after your spine in such a routine manner is significantly more important and it this is has been ignored for far too long.
Not sure that you are with me on this?
OK let’s run some quick comparisons between teeth and spines.
- Aesthetics: Yes bad teeth can lead to an ‘interesting’ smile, however I bet the Hunchback Of Notre Dame would have traded in some average chompers to be upright and agile in a second. In the event that you do need/want some work done to ‘pretty up’ your teeth, it is generally less invasive, less expensive and significantly more achievable. If you need more evidence to support this then perhaps do some browsing on spinal surgery, especially for scoliosis.
- Deformity and degeneration: We all know that life isn’t just about aesthetics though. Compared to teeth, when your spine degenerates it results in more disability, negative health outcomes, health care expenditure and loss of quality of life.
- Replicability: If you destroy your teeth, you can get some new (false) ones. You cannot however replace your spine. Once the degeneration and damage sets in, it is with you for life.
I think you can see why I believe we need to pay more attention to our spines!
Hopefully you agree with me and are now ruminating on what you can do to look after your spine like you do your teeth. Well there is a simple answer to that, it is something that I have termed Spinal Cleaning. It is easy to do, time efficient, can be done anywhere and anytime and will slot seamlessly into your normal daily rhythms.
Essentially Spinal Cleaning is a 3 step range of motion activity that takes your spine through its fundamental planes of motion and takes anywhere from 3 minutes to 6 minutes. Basically you repeat the movements in each step for 30-60 seconds and do it for your whole body and then just your neck.
Step 1: Forward and Back
Fold yourself slowly forward as far as you can, reaching your hands down towards your feet or the floor. Once you get as far as you can comfortably, take a slight pause and then start bringing yourself back up, eventually bending as far back as you can go. Again take a slight pause at the end and then repeat the cycle.
Step 2: Side Bending
Bend yourself towards one side as far as you can, reaching one hand up over your head as the other one slides down the outside of the leg on the side that you are bending to. Once you get as far as you can comfortably, take a slight pause and then start bringing yourself back up, eventually bending all the way to the other side in the same manner. Again take a slight pause at the end and then repeat the cycle.
Step 3: Twisting
With your arms up in front of you, hands together and elbows pointed outward, twist yourself towards one side as far as you can. When moving your body, compared to step 1 and 2 this one is done at a slightly faster pace with the use of a little momentum. As you twist to one side you will build up some tension in your body that will ‘spring’ you back in the other direction once you reach the end of your normal range. With each twist you will get a stretch out of your tissues. When twisting your head side to side for neck Spina Cleaning just move in a slow and controlled manner from one to the other in a continuous fashion.
And that is it. Super simple but very effective.
Like most movement/exercise routines the benefits compound with time so it is imperative to do it most days twice a day. The great thing about Spinal Cleaning how easy it is to do and given you are already cleaning one part of your body twice a day you can just slot this in at the same time. Even if you can’t do it for the full 3-6 minutes some is always better than none!
To download my Spinal Cleaning info sheets with helpful diagrams, please click here.