HEALTHY BACK BEHAVIORS
As with many other aspects of a patient’s health, prevention and wellness-promoting behaviors can have a decisive impact on the health of the neck and spine over the lifetime. And after a successful surgical or nonsurgical treatment for a spinal injury or condition, these healthy-back behaviors can be critical in preventing reinjury or the development of new problems. Here are a few selected tips on behaviors and lifestyle choices that can promote better spine health.
- Safety First! Especially when it comes to injuries, prevention is indeed the best medicine. Patients should be sensible when it comes to sports and strenuous activity, use recommended safety equipment, and heed the advice of coaches and trainers. In industrial workplaces and other occupational environments with physical hazards present, it is important to diligently follow all safety procedures mandated by management, unions, or other relevant authorities. The effectiveness of these practices can always be enhanced, of course, by healthy doses of caution and common sense. Always taking a moment to “think before you act” is a sound habit to help prevent accidents at home, at work, and on the road.
- Exercise sensibly and regularly. An exercise program that is appropriate to the patient’s current spinal health and overall physical condition can promote greater strength and flexibility in the back and neck, making the patient more resistant to spine injuries and disorders, and reducing the negative effects of a lifestyle that may otherwise be sedentary or bound to the desk or couch. For patients recovering from surgery or other treatments, a supervised exercise or physical therapy program may have a decisive impact on long-term success.
- Maintain a healthy weight. A high body mass index (BMI) can amplify the strains and stresses on the bones, muscles, and joints of the back and neck that occur naturally with normal activity and aging. It is important that you calculate your own BMI. While overweight and obesity are challenges affecting an increasing proportion of the population, a consistent weight management program can succeed. Even a relatively modest weight loss can make a significant difference in the effects on the spine. With close relationships with colleagues in such allied fields as physical therapy, nutrition, and bariatric medicine, The Spine Institute team can help patients identify resources that can support successful weight management for a healthier spine.
- Be mindful of nutrition. Especially with the tendency of older women (but men can be affected as well!) to develop deficiencies in calcium and other nutrients that can impact the health of bones, muscles, and connective tissue and lead to debilitating conditions such as osteoporosis, good nutrition may be critical to lifetime spine health. The best way for patients to start exploring their nutritional needs is to first discuss the issue with the primary care physician, who can assess the possible need for testing, nutritional supplements, or dietary modifications, and make referrals to specialized professionals as needed.
- Maintain good posture. Poor postural habits or ergonomic conditions in a patient’s occupational or personal life can result directly in injuries or disorders to the back and neck, or may aggravate existing disorders. Thankfully, with an increasing body of clinical knowledge and research on these issues, there are good solutions today. The primary care physician is a good point of initial contact for an overall perspective. For those who work for midsize or larger organizations, the services of a staff member or consultant with expertise in office ergonomics may also be available, possibly along with customized furniture and equipment designed to meet specialized needs. With their expertise and relationships with allied professionals, the clinical team at The Spine Institute of Southern New Jersey can also direct patients to appropriate information and resources.
- Don’t smoke. In addition to the perilous effects on the lungs and cardiovascular system, tobacco products can have detrimental neurological and musculoskeletal effects that can contribute to or aggravate spinal injuries and disorders.
- Evaluate medications. In some instances, medications a patient takes for unrelated conditions may have side effects that could impact back and neck disorders, the effectiveness of treatments, or the recovery from surgical or other treatment approaches. In coordination with the primary care physician, the medical team at The Spine Institute can evaluate the patient’s overall medication regimens for possible spine implications.