Dr. Prathap R. Addageethala, Doctor of Chiropractic, Director, Atlas Chiropractic and Wellness, shares tips on spinal care.
I believe it was Thomas Edison who first said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – and his hallowed words echo true, even today. We’ve applied this famous saying to many things, and although he was referring to fire safety, we’re more apt to use it to frame our healthcare mantras. Try as we might, balancing work, family, and social pressures is a juggling act that takes every bit of our concentration. Let’s be honest, if you’re like most people, trying to prevent health issues doesn’t usually end up making the cut on our priority list.
There are endless analogies that help us describe this phenomenon. Why wait until your car stops running to refuel? Why wait until you have a cavity to brush and floss your teeth? Why wait until your house catches fire before you get insurance? See, the issue in being reactive often means that you are forced into a situation of difficulty or struggle prior to making a behavioural change. What if there was a secret cheat sheet to never needing to worry about sneaky health issues, and having to make an expensive or life-altering decision based on ‘bad luck’?
BALANCE IS THE KEY TO PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE
That secret blueprint, my friends, is quite boring. Plain and simple, balance is what we’re looking for to create a protective seal around life’s calamities. The pendulum of our modern lifestyle has swung too far away from our bipedal ancestor’s roots, and we are now evolving away from being functional hunter-gatherers. Simple tasks seem to be taking more energy than ever, and people in general seem to be more fatigued than previous generations. My own mother, a schoolteacher for more than 35 years, has asked me on several occasions why ‘kids these days’ are always so tired. When I respond “the internet and modern technology have changed the way the body works” she rolls her eyes, and dives straight into an ‘in my day’ lecture.
To be more to the point, lifestyle diseases or non-communicable diseases (NCD) are currently responsible for 70% of all the deaths in the world on an annual basis, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This group of diseases include the big 4 – heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and cancer. The leading cause of death is cardiovascular diseases, which has been shown to be influenced by “modifiable behaviours,” namely poor dietary choices, sedentary lifestyles, and consumption of tobacco and alcohol. But the issue remains, if these behaviours are indeed modifiable, why are they still killing us?
THE PLAN TO TACKLE LIFESTYLE BASED DISEASES
Luckily, there’s a game plan. We’re going to try to balance a bit better and change the way we do certain things. In this article, I’m trying to at least wake you up to the ideas that balance doesn’t have to be boring, that certain behaviours will improve your overall health, and that a “boring” routine can save your life in the long run. We’ll be keying in on easy behaviour modifications so that the changes won’t feel drastic. And moreover, we’ll be able to make these changes last sustainably, which is arguably the most important change while combatting the insidious onset of lifestyle diseases.
“TECH NECK” IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE AMOUNT OF SCREEN TIME USED
First on the list – take care of your body physically. More specifically, take care of your spine, you only get one. The truth is that we are all aging at around the same speed. Just by virtue of being alive, living on the surface of this planet, we are being pulled to the earth by the force of gravity. While this has its benefits, like preventing us from spontaneously floating into outer space, this has had a strong role to play in modern healthcare issues. “Tech neck” and its other technology driven predecessors are largely due to the amount of screen time being spent, and the crooked postures that result. If we’re standing straight up, gravity goes through our spine in a straight line, distributing its force evenly through our spine and both legs. Once we sit though, we take our legs out of the equation and the entire force of gravity sits on our spine, affecting our low back and neck the most.
Our heads weigh roughly 4.5 to 5 kgs, and it sits on a column of tiny bones known as the cervical spine. Between the bones in the spine are flexible pieces of cartilage, known as intervertebral discs, that have a stiff outer surface and a jelly like interior. These act like shock absorbers for our spines, and allow us to enjoy smooth, fluid movement throughout our body. Put to the test though, these discs don’t stand up to prolonged pressure, and are prone to damage. A damaged disc can further put pressure on nerves running through your spine, causing that cursed numbness and tingling that may radiate down to an arm or leg.
It was previously believed that once you reached 40 years old, arthritis was an inevitability. Arthritis, or inflammation of a joint, is typical of tissue and joint breakdown, through normal wear and tear or aging. That age for first degenerative changes has decreased steadily. Now it’s not uncommon to see people as young as 16 with advanced arthritic changes in their spines. Disturbed by these facts? It’s a good thing that this doomsday stuff doesn’t have to happen with proper precautions.
MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
Whether you’re 16 or you’re 65, physical activity is a must. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recommends between 30 and 60 minutes of moderate physical exercise per day for best health practices. The factors are simple: motion is lotion, and if you don’t use it you lose it. Exercise is proven to burn excess calories, prevent unnecessary weight gain, improve blood circulation, and even help improve mood and fight depression. The uptick in your movement levels should also boost joint health, muscle tone, and promote the overall well-being of the immune system.
It doesn’t take much to add up to 30 minutes of exercise. Most of the time we build these modest numbers into these huge monumental tasks. The reasons we can’t or don’t outnumber the reasons we should. A 30-minute walk should not require much thinking or planning. You don’t need your headphones, you don’t need to do your hair, and you most certainly don’t need to go to the gym or the track. Start from your front door and walk exactly 15 minutes in a straight line. Once you’re there, turn on your heel and walk straight home. Do not stop for coffee, don’t pet the dog, do not pass go. Go straight home. And just like that, your 30 minutes are up and you’ve just accomplished changes in your body’s health, and you’re literally one step in the right direction towards your goal of creating balance.
SLEEP LIKE A BABY BY PLANNING A SLEEP ROUTINE (LIKE A BABY)
Closely related to your exercise routine is your ability to get rest. And not just the average kind of shut eye, but the wholesome deep sleep to replenish the muscles and brain. Lack of sleep has been shown to cause everything from migraines, to unexpected weight gain, to a variety of metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. But again, with our modern lifestyles, sleep comes at a premium. Screen usage has a negative effect on sleep – specifically, the blue light that LED screens emit interfere with the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep.
The answer is once again simple. Try to establish a sleep routine. When we’re babies, our parents tried putting us to bed at the same time each day, so that we could get adequate amounts of rest, and more importantly, so could they. By routinely getting an infant ready for bed at the same time, we condition the child to certain cues. Their little bodies and brains become accustomed to the events surrounding sleep, and suddenly, they’re out like a light when we play their favourite lullaby. We can use the same idea to our advantage several years later.
Start by working backwards. Figure out how much time you’ll need to sleep in order to function the next day. The average adult requires about 6-7 hours of quality deep sleep per day, so if you need to be up at 6 am, try to be asleep by 11pm. If you need to be asleep at 11pm, your routine should start at 10pm, so you have buffer to get to the point of sleep. This is also ideally the time to turn off all devices with LED screens, including laptops, tablets, TVs, and cell phones. Start with a warm, uncaffeinated beverage to increase the overall body temperature and relax the muscles. Chamomile or lavender tea work well at night to sooth the senses. Take out a book and read a few pages. The physical act of reading the words on a page will tire out your eyes preparing you for a restful slumber. Ensure your room does not have any light seeping in from windows or doors and try to keep the temperature is below average. Stick to the same routine for at least 18 days for best results, as that’s how long it takes at minimum to build a habit.
HEALTH IS NOT JUST THE ABSENCE OF DISEASE
To round out the magic ratio for wellness – that is the preservation of health once it’s attained – involves one more parameter. Along with rest and exercise, the third component is treatment. Many people believe that visiting a doctor is only required when something is wrong. Once again, the reactive lifestyle is on full display. Once the cough develops into congestion, or worse, the sufferer reaches out for help. Of course, the medical model for healthcare has been failing on a large scale. The opioid epidemic in the US was a drama that unfolded for the world to see and carries on even today. The rampant prescription of pain killers across the globe has brought attention to a systemic problem, and many have actively started avoiding the regular usage of such medicines.
In India, the thought of using natural supplements to boost health is an ancient wisdom. This is the birthplace of Ayurveda, and has thousands of both trained and folk healers in the arts of naturopathy and homeopathy. Physiotherapy is also a widely recognized source of pain relief, and is one of the most recommended options for orthopedic complaints. The old saying goes “health is more than just the absence of disease” and this is ringing truer everyday.
YOU ONLY GET ONE SPINE, TREAT IT WELL
Going back to our original question – why wait until there is sign of damage to our spine before we correct it? Bridging the gap between pain and recreation, a solution has emerged. Latest research has shown that Chiropractic care can help prevent disc disease, headaches, and has ranked far superior to traditional approaches when it comes to run of the mill neck pain and back pain. For those looking for solutions to the cause of their pain, Chiropractic is one of the top options. Speaking specifically about degeneration, you can think about Chiropractic as the dentists of the spine; prevention over the cure. Where there’s damage that can be fixed, or there’s damage to prevent, this nascent line of healthcare in India actually has a proven track record of over 125 years.
Despite the situation facing all of us, that our spine is degenerating as we age, there are ways to proactively take care of your health before problems start to arise. The perfect ratio of exercise, rest, and treatment can really help improve the longstanding quality of your life, as well as maintain health, something we like to call wellness. By providing your body with balance of these three essentials, you can protect yourself against lifestyle diseases. The spinal countdown is on, but you have the power to delay the clock.