All of us have chronic wear and tear (degeneration) of spine, especially in old age. Spine problems can affect younger population also. It is not clear whether more patients are diagnosed with spine problem now due to improved diagnostic methods or there is actually increased incidence of spinal problems due to changing life styles. Even though back and neck pain are going to affect almost every one at some point of time in their life, not everyone is going to need surgery. So the question is, how can we keep our spine healthy so we don’t develop neck/ back pain and if we already have neck/ back pain, how to prevent it from worsening.
Spine is made up of several vertebral bones, discs, spinal cords and nerves, surrounding ligaments and muscles. Any of these structures can get affected and can cause spine related pain. It is best to keep all these tissue healthy to avoid spine related problems. Best way to keep spine and related structures healthy is to do regular exercises. Light aerobic exercises are best. Some amount of weight training is also beneficial to increase bone and muscle strength; however, excessive exercises and heavy weight training can cause damage to spinal discs and ligaments. Exercises also increase blood supply to all tissues to help keep tissues healthy and to promote healing of damaged tissue. Muscles with good strength provide better support to spine and help maintain good posture.
Maintaining a good posture prevents excessive pressure and damage to intervertebral discs. Sitting with slouched posture puts back muscles and disc under excessive pressure. Sitting on a very low lying, soft surface (e.g. sofa) for long time is not in the best interest of the spine. It is recommended to sit with a straight back on a firm (not excessive hard) surface. It is very important for the people who work in offices.
For the people who work for long hours in standing position (shop-keepers, teachers, surgeons etc.), standing straight with feet about a foot apart is better to provide a firm and wide base for good body balance. Intermittently, one leg can be kept on an stool to help relax muscles around the spine and hip joint, which reduces the pressure on spine. We should not lift heavy weight with a forward bent posture, e.g. lifting baggage from airport conveyor belt. This is the worst thing one can do to their spine and many patients actually start spinal problem after lifting something heavy. It is better to sit down with bent knee and then lift the weight keeping the weight close to the body to minimize lever-arm effect.
Different health supplements, e.g. vitamin D and calcium are required to keep vertebrae strong. Females require hormonal replacement after menopause as certain female hormones are helpful in keeping bone framework intact. Lack of these hormones make bones brittle (osteoporosis). Adequate protein intake is must to maintain muscle and bone mass.