How to Achieve a Healthier Spine

The first step to achieving a healthier spine is to get it checked by a chiropractor who will correct any misalignments. Stretching, maintaining proper posture, and not sitting for long periods of time are simple ways to keep your spine healthy.

How does a healthy spine promote overall good health?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question, Liz. I feel like the spine unfortunately usually gets overlooked in terms of how people feel and obviously function. The great Greek philosopher Socrates said, “In sickness and disease, first look to the spine for health.” So essentially, it’s pretty simple. Obviously, as a chiropractor, you specialize in the treatment of the spine and nervous system. Your spine is essentially your suit of armor for your nervous system, and obviously your nervous system is the most important organ that we have within the body. It simply controls everything we do, how we feel, how we function, both on a biomechanical and a physiological level.

So, when a spine is unhealthy, and we’re obviously going to discuss this here in a lot more detail what is unhealthy, but it might be poor alignment, poor joint function, might be some form of disease within the spine, then obviously that’s going to create stress and tension on the nervous system. If your nervous system is under stress, you are not going to function well on a physiological level. Now that might be symptomatic, we might have pain, or we may have dysfunction within the organ. So, for us, if you are going to function at an optimal level, your spine has to be healthy, and obviously we’re going to discuss here in a moment what is healthy and what is unhealthy. But I could bet your bottom dollar, if people are sick and diseased and/or in pain, you have to look at the spine to figure out exactly what is causing that sickness and disease.

How does a healthy spine differ from an unhealthy spine?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. So exactly what is a healthy spine, right? Let’s just focus on the spine as kind of a unit, a structure on a biomechanical level more so than on a pathological level. A spine that has cancer or some weird bone disease or an infection, that’s obviously a really unhealthy spine. But a healthy spine for us when we’re talking about biomechanics is a spine that’s in alignment. For example, the top bone in your neck should meet the bottom bone at a 42-degree curve, should have nice joint spaces from the front to the back, healthy bone shape, healthy bone, lots of room for the nerves to come out of. And then we obviously supplement that with balance, strength in the core muscles deep in your neck between your shoulder blades. Then when you’re upright, for example, we should be able to displace the weight of our head nice and easy. Thoracic spine’s similar, just a different, obviously, alignment. Lower back’s similar, just a little bit of a different alignment. But your spine in align and the joints move well, then there’s going to be minimal stress and tension on the joint, the tissue, and the nerve that’s going to allow it to function well.

Now let’s imagine we have an unhealthy spine. Now, again, let’s not discuss unhealthy spines if we have a weird infection or blood disease or a bone cancer. Obviously, that is a medical issue. Unhealthy spine for us in how we discuss it in a biomechanical aspect is a spine that’s been shifted out of alignment, a spine that has degenerative changes from that poor alignment. For example, if I was going to discuss the neck, top bone, bottom bone, 42-degree curve, good, healthy disc and bone, we get rear-ended, we do nothing about it. Five years later, we’ve got disc generation within the spine. That’s obviously going to create pain, dysfunction, limited range of motion, so it’s going to affect how we function on a physiological level, too.

So, with a healthy spine, you can be able to carry the weight of the body evenly into the joint and the tissue. We supplement that with good balance, strength that creates minimal load into the joint and the tissue and the nerve. That’s going to allow us to function optimally. If we get away from that, obviously there’s varying degrees of how far away we can get it, that’s when our spine can become unhealthy. And then it’s alignment aspect or it’s degeneration aspect, that’s when we start to not function well without restriction on a biomechanical level, which would then obviously create pain and dysfunction within the body.

How can chiropractors help achieve a healthy spine?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Awesome question. Chiropractors specialize in the treatment of the spine and nervous system, right? So, any chiropractor worth his salt is going to figure out how healthy your spine is. So how do you do that? Obviously, yes, we’re going to do a history and a consult to figure out why you came into the office, how it’s affecting your life, how long it’s been affecting your life, a functional exam, both orthopedic and neurological, to figure out what’s going on within the spine, and then obviously take x-rays. When you evaluate the spine via x-ray to see, it’s kind of like building a house. You don’t build a house without blueprint. So, your spine is your blueprint, and x-rays allow us to figure out the blueprint of your spine. So, from a detailed analysis, x-rays specifically, and going through some really detailed analysis we can figure out how unhealthy your spine is in an alignment aspect, and then from there we can build out a treatment plan to fix that issue.

Again, we’ve discussed this on a previous podcast, there are many different ways chiropractors can focus, but the adjustment’s paramount. When you adjust the spine, the joint specifically, that’s how you communicate with the brain. Over 80% of stimulation of the brain comes from movement in the spine. By adjusting the joint just on a physical level, it’s going to remove a fixation. It’s going to allow the joint to move better. It’s going to create the synapses within the joint and the nerve, which is going to create stimulation of brain. Research is clear on that. When the spine moves via an adjustment, activity happens in the brain. And that’s how essentially, we communicate, and then we heal. So, adjustments are key. Get joints moving, stress and tension off the joint and the nerve specifically.

We’ve got to address the soft tissue, because when a joint shifts and it doesn’t move well, muscles and tendons compensate. They shorten up. They get taxed. You don’t want an unstable joint to be moving because it’s a compound issue. So, we need to address the soft tissue. How do you do that? Many different ways, but essentially you want to address that tissue through a functional aspect. Taking it from a short to a long position while it’s under tension could improve the health of that tissue.

And then we have to address postural changes. For example, if you’ve got a lot of neck pain and headaches, chances are the muscles that stabilize your spine are inactive and the big muscles that are designed to move you are taking over. So, the big trap muscles, chest muscles, shoulder muscles, they’re designed to move you. The muscles that sit intrinsically to the spine, from the spine between your shoulder blades, help keep the spine aligned. Then we obviously take the patient through an exercise program to address all those postural changes via physical therapy and addressing the postural muscles.

And lastly, what is going on with the spine alignment? Based on the misalignment, take that patient through spinal traction. Based on their misalignment, repetitively over time you can change the shape of your spine objectively. It’s essentially how we practice in our office, and we do really well and we get great results.

Are there stretches or exercises that promote a healthy spine that can be done at home?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. So, stretching and exercise are something that should be done periodically throughout the week. Absolutely. To our patients, we always discuss something called the three-legged stool, and the three-legged stool essentially makes up subluxations. Subluxations are essentially stress in the spine that create dysfunction if it’s pain or just dysfunction in an organ system.

When we treat our patients and we start graduating from corrective care into supportive care where they’re not really seeing us on a really frequent basis, we always stress two legs of the stool, which is avoid bad habits. So, make sure you’re sitting correctly at your desk, make sure you’re using a sit-stand desk, make sure you’re taking postural breaks during your work day. And then we recommend at-home exercises to stretch the muscles that get overused and get tight, to do exercise to engage the muscles that pick up on movement. But when we’re sitting all day, they’re not moving, they get weak and lazy.

So, based on your condition, you should be proactively stretching and doing specific postural exercises to maintain the health of your spine. Absolutely.

Why should we have our spines checked routinely?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Again, coming back to our earlier question, what is a healthy spine, a healthy spine is a spine that’s in alignment and moves well. Well, life is stressful. Could be ergonomic stress from having to work 50-60 hours a week, strapped to your desk, working from home during a pandemic. It might be being rear-ended in a car accident that we had previously months or years ago. These stresses over time add up, but when they add up, they cause subluxations. Subluxation is essentially an advanced term for a spine that’s out of alignment, not functioning well. Subluxations create stress and tension on the nervous system. When the nervous system is stressed, we don’t function well and that might be pain or dysfunction within that organ system.

So, life happens. Just like putting oil in your car every 3,000 miles, it not necessarily needs it every 3,000 miles, but you do it to make sure your car runs well and you’re not breaking down and dealing with AAA. So, by getting your spine evaluated on a weekly, biweekly, monthly basis to make sure your spine is functioning well, you’re not subluxating, that’s going to allow you to function on an optimal level.

So, view your spine as teeth in your mouth. You get your teeth checked to make sure they’re not falling out of your face. Get your spine checked to make sure you’re not subluxating, you’re functioning well on a physiological and biomechanical level.

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