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Five Ways to a Healthy Spine by Dr. Peter F. Ullrich, Jr.

The spine’s many nerves, muscles and ligaments serve as connections to areas throughout the body, so keeping your spine in top condition is one of the best things you can do for both your back and overall health.

Let the spine really rest while sleeping.

While you’re sleeping, the structures in your spinal column that have worked hard all day finally have an opportu- nity to relax and rejuvenate. Using the right mattress and pillow will support the spine, allowing the muscles and ligaments to become stress-free and refreshed.

Choose your shoes carefully.

Whether walking for exercise or just to get where you’re going, the shoes on your feet have a big effect on your back. Shoes should be well-balanced, flexible and comfortable. Providing not only protection for the feet, but a supportive base that helps the spine and body remain in alignment, the right shoes, plus inserts for added balance, if needed, can help avoid muscle strain and possible injury.

Enjoy the benefits of a massage chair.

A massage feels good because it relaxes your muscles and relieves stress, but therapeutic massage does more than

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improve flexibility and decrease ten- sion. Massage chairs also can improve blood flow and increase the level of endorphins, natural chemicals in the body that make you feel good, in your bloodstream. While it’s not the same as experiencing treatment by a mas- sage therapist, using a massage chair at home can be a practical, easy way to feel some of the benefits of a Shiatsu or Swedish massage.

Sit up straight, with support.

Loading on the discs in the lower spine is three times greater while sitting than standing, so it follows that long peri- ods of sitting can create or aggravate a painful back condition. Problems can also occur from sitting incorrectly or in an uncomfortable chair. For example, while sitting in an office chair, many people slouch and lean forward; this poor posture typically leads to muscle tension and pain in the lower back and legs. That is why having the right office chair is key to promoting good pos- ture and supporting the back’s natural curves. Because a prolonged static posture is stressful for the structures in the spine, most experts recommend that

you get up to stretch and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes.

Specifically exercise abs and back.

One of the most important components of good spine health is exercise. If back and abdominal muscles are not in good shape, it puts additional pressure on the spine, already under the stress of supporting the entire body. Performing abdominal and back exercises (which don’t get much exercise from daily activities) as part of a daily routine will go far in maintaining a healthy spine. When abdominal and back muscles are well-maintained, they help support the spine and minimize the chance of injury.

Dr. Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., is a practic- ing physician and the co-founder and medical director of Spine-Health (, a leading educa- tional online resource for people with neck and back pain.

Source: © 1999-2009 Spine-Health. com, all rights reserved. Always seek the advice of your physician.

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