What is Spinal Hygiene and How Can We Get it?

Posted on March 5, 2024

"Flexible girl is working out, she is doing the splits and looking at the camera."

No, this is not about flossing between the vertebrae. Like our dental hygiene, we should care for our spines on a daily basis. Hint: sitting all day is not called ‘the new smoking’ for nothing, and can have dire postural and pain consequences. Spinal hygiene teaches us to be mindful of our habits and posture. It reminds us to practice healthy movement. Dr Gillian Tsang, a Chiropractor and Schroth Best Practice therapist, talks us through healthy spinal habits to practice daily and how to avoid typical spinal pitfalls.

Our spines are absolutely imperative to our general health. A lot of people view the spine as only a rigid structure, but housed underneath each segment of the spine runs our nervous system, blood vessels, and lymphatic system. If there is a dysfunction in the way the spine is moving, not only will it cause compensation structurally, but it can subsequently affect these systems.

I can often see whether people have good spinal health simply by looking at their posture. Unlevelled shoulders, tilted pelvis, the way you sit and stand, and your body language tells me a lot. If you have a habit of sitting slouched, shoulders rounded, head jutting forwards, you are putting a lot of strain on your neck and upper back. I also see a lot of poor sitting postures with the lower back hunched and unsupported , which causes additional strain in the lower back.

The solution? Spinal hygiene.

Dr. Gillian’s spinal hygiene 101:

Anything longer than 45 minutes will start to create pressure in the lower back. Set your phone alarm to nudge you to stand up, walk around and take a quick break. You’re decreasing the pressure on the lower back once you get up and directly assisting the spine.

The time spent at your desk takes up a large part of your day, every day. Set up your desk and chair to allow you to sit and work comfortably. Your computer screen should be at eye level, your mouse and keyboard at your arms’ natural height and placed in front of you so that you keep your elbows by your side. It is the details that count and little changes can make a big difference.

Be mindful of your posture and aches and pains occurring daily or after certain activities – it’s your body talking to you. Incorporate stretching regularly into your day, not just before and after exercise. Stretch your legs to relax the muscles. Reach your arms to the sky and elongate your spine. Lean to the left and right to ease lateral muscles. You can do this at your desk, waiting for the bus, standing in line – it is important to mindfully incorporate this habit into what you do every day. Avoid twisting the lower back.

Whatever the exercise you do, focus on the form. A lot of people exercise to gain bigger muscles or lose weight, but any exercise done with faulty form and patterns can exacerbate postural issues and can lead to pain. Be aware of your limits, especially when in a competitive situation, and when on the yoga mat. Try to balance high intensity classes with something relaxing and with emphasis on flexibility like swimming, yoga and Pilates which are great for spinal health.

If the body isn’t getting proper vitamins and minerals from our diet, and is also under mental and physical stress which further depletes our system, it can heighten the body’s inflammatory state, slowing down the repair and regeneration of our tissues. incinflammation will follow and any issues will flare up more quickly and prove harder to repair. Magnesium and vitamin B12 in particular are important for nerve and muscle function.

Check the position you sleep in. Start the night right by falling asleep on your back or side. Lying on your front means your head will be twisted to one side and this prone position doesn’t support the natural curve of your spine.

Don’t miss Dr Gillian’s Postural Screening for Teens coming up on Saturday September 24th from 11am to 1pm at One Island South. Dr Gillian will be checking spinal alignment, posture and checking for muscular asymmetry and imbalances, during the screening that lasts around 10 to 15 minutes. Read more here. https://flexhk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PosturalScreening.pdf

In addition, from 1pm to 2.30 on the same day, Flex co-founder Heather will be leading a Healthy Back Teen Postural Workshop for teens from ten years old and up. Teaching postural awareness and core stability to build a healthy foundation for the future, key exercises to take away and practice at home could prevent future back pain. Read more here.

Come to Flex and practice Pilates. Pilates exercises help enhance the body-mind connection that helps you focus on your own alignment, give you the understanding to catch your bad habits and remind you to maintain spine hygiene. Both yoga and Pilates help move the spine to keep it flexible and strengthen the muscles that provide support for our bodies.

About Schroth Best Practice
Invented by Katharina Schroth in the 1920s, Schroth Best Practice is the latest evolution of the Schroth exercise therapy that halts and reduces scoliosis, lateral curvatures of the spine. The exercises correct the spine in three-dimension and incorporates corrective breathing and posture corrections to perform every day, which aim to overcorrect the curve and bring the spine back into alignment. Scoliosis can occur at any age but has the greatest ability to progress and worsen at ages before puberty. There is a crucial window, falling before and during puberty, during which Schroth exercise is most pertinent, but the exercises can benefit all ages. Scoliosis isn’t always visible to the naked eye, but spans curvatures of the spine of 10 degrees or more. Tell-tale signs can include unlevelled shoulders and shoulder blades, protruding ribs and a twisted pelvis. For assistance with scoliosis and other spinal issues, Dr Gillian Tsang can be found at www.hongkongchirocare.com.

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