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If age is determined by the flexibility and the strength of one’s spine, what age does your spine have?  Or rather, how young actually are you?

The spine is a pivotaly important part of our body.  Without it, we could not keep ourselves upright or even stand up.  It gives our body structure and support.  It enables us to move about freely and to bend with flexibility.  The spine is also designed to protect our spinal cord.  The spinal cord is a column of nerves that connects our brain with the rest of the body, allowing control our movement and bodily function.  This is why keeping spine flexible is vital for healthy and active life and also important for optimum nervous system function.

Our spine has many nerves, muscles and ligaments that serve as connections to areas throughout the body, so keepingour backs in top condition is one of the best things we can do for both our backs and our general health.  The flexibility of our spine is highly dependent on the curves within the structure.  The normal spine has an “S”-like curve when looking at it from the side.  This allows an even distribution of weight.  The cervical spine curves slightly inward, the thoracic curves outward, and the lumbar curves inward.  Even though the lower portion of your spine holds most of the body’s weight, each segment relies upon the strength of the others to function properly.  In order to maintain a healthy structure, those curves need to be taken care of, strengthened and mobilised in daily activity and exercise.

The pelvis is the foundation for the spine.  Decreased mobility in the hips, hamstrings, ankles, and thoracic spine can lead problems in the lumbar spine and pelvis..  This problem is particularly common in women — in part because of higher heels, but also because the connective tissues of an average woman’s spine are usually looser than the average man’s.

There are a number of simple things we can try to help keep our spine as healthy as possible and minimise complications from back conditions and/or prevent future painful episodes.

Sit up correct

The discs in our lower spine have three times more pressure on them when we are sitting rather than standing, so long periods of sitting may create or aggravate a painful back condition.  In addition, when sitting in a chair, many people don’t sit correctly they often slouch and/or lean forward, this incorrect posture regularly leads to muscle tension and pain in the lower and upper back.  The correct type office chair plays an important role in promoting good posture and supporting the natural curves of your back. In addition to a comfortable chair, most experts recommend getting up to stretch and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes, as prolonged static posture is stressful for the structures in your spine.

Let your spine really rest while sleeping

While you’re sleeping, all of the structures in your spine that have supported your muscles and aided movement are able to recover , rest and repair.  Sleeping on a poor mattress is a large contributor to back pain.  In a Journal of Applied Ergonomics study, nearly 63% reported significant improvements in low back pain after switching to a correct matress.  Using the right mattress and pillow helps to support the spine, so the muscles and ligaments can be stress-free and have a chance to relax and not be put under any stress or strain.

Exercise your abs and back

One of the most important components of good spine health is exercise.  Particularly, performing abdominal and back exercises will help to keep the spine healthy. If back and abdominal muscles are not strong enough, additional pressure will be put on the spine, which is already under the stress of supporting your entire body.  When these musclesare strong and relaxed they help support the spine and minimise the chance of injury.  These exercises are simple and can be performed in 20 to 30 minutes as part of a daily exercise session.

Pelvic Tilt – Lie on floor with knees bent, feet parallel and arms to the side.  Tighten lower abdominal muscles, pulling the navel and lower back toward the floor, without using buttocks or leg muscles. Hold for 5 seconds; 5-10 repetitions.

Trunk Curl – Lie on floor with knees bent and arms crossed on the chest.  Using upper abdominal muscles, raise trunk of body off the floor slightly, to about 15 degrees.  Hold 5 seconds, Lower trunk slowly to the floor.  To be effective, motion should raise the chest, rather than the head or neck, and only be only a slight lift.  Rising too far, to a sitting position, works leg muscles not the abdominals.

Prone Arm/Leg Raises – Lie on stomach keeping neck in line with straight legs, and arms outstretched overhead.  Slowly raise and lower each arm and leg, one at a time; 5 repetitions on each limb.  Work alternate limbs by lifting right arm and left leg at the same time; 5 repetitions; change to work reverse pair.

Arm/Leg Raises – This exercise is similar to the prone arm/leg raises, except done with hands and knees on the floor, with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.  To work arms, slowly straighten the right arm, reaching forward and keeping neck and back straight.  Hold 5 seconds; slowly lower arm to starting position, 3-5 repetitions on each side.

To work legs, slowly straighten leg without arching back, extending the leg behind the body, hold 5 seconds; slowly return to starting position, 3-5 repetitions on each side.  To work alternate pairs of limbs, raising the right arm and left leg at the same time.  Hold position for 5 seconds, 3-5 repetitions; change to work reverse pair.

Cat Curls – Get down on all-fours with knees and hands on the floor with back and neck in a neutral, straight position.  Slowly tighten lower abdominals, rounding the back towards the ceiling.  Hold for 5 seconds, release and return to neutral position.  Arch the back slightly, hold for 5 seconds, release and return to neutral position.