We’re coming up to the beginning of August & you know what that means… That’s right – National Watermelon Day!
And as a very side note, it also means it’s almost back to school time. (Insert shouts of joy from parents & tears of sorrow from children). But just because we are still a few weeks away from school being back in session, doesn’t mean we can’t start learning yet. That’s right… today’s article is going to be a good little warm-up for back to school. After all, nobody wants to strain a mental muscle now, do they?
I’m not only going to take you back to school. I’m going to take you all the way back to your mother’s womb. You know, the days when your spine first started forming.
You know what’s great about healthcare? Every health professional thinks that what they do is more important than every other health professional. Cardiologists think they’re the most important because the heart is the engine that keeps the body going day in and day out. Pulmonologists think they’re the most important because you can’t make it very far without the ability to breathe. Dentists think they’re the most important because who wants to walk around with an ugly smile?
But Chiropractors KNOW we are the most important because we take care of the first structures to form – the spine and nervous system. The nervous system is the master control system of the body; the system that controls and coordinates every other system; the system that tells every muscle and organ how to perform it’s job.
How about the spine? Well that’s nothing special… it’s just the structure that protects that system that runs every other system in the body. Highly unimportant…
Not only was the spine designed for protection of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), but it was also designed for support, flexibility, strength, and motion of the human body.
Your spine makes it possible for you to take tens of thousands of steps each day, bend over to pick things up, look down at your phone or peer behind your shoulder when you’re changing lanes on the interstate. Meanwhile, what do we do to thank it? We get hit by cars, we willingly run full speed into another human for a tackle, we trip off the curb & fall down the stairs. Does your spine make a big fuss about all of this? Not typically.
Now this spine thing is pretty simple, right? Absolutely not. It is comprised of 33 individual vertebrae at birth that become 26 vertebrae as an adult, after several of these bones fuse together. There are over 120 muscles and 220 ligaments attached to the spine. This is how the spine provides the rest of the body with strength and support. Then you add in over 100 joints to give the spine it’s flexibility and range of motion. If that wasn’t enough… you have an entire quarter of the spine’s length that is comprised of these spongy, cushions we like to call intervertebral discs. These discs separate one vertebra from the next and constantly absorb shock all…day…long.
Here’s something cool about those discs that I bet you didn’t know… they expand when you remove gravity from the equation. Big deal, right? That is a big deal! That means if you’re 4’11” and you’ve been praying every night to grow one more inch, you don’t have to pray anymore. All you have to do is take a trip to the moon and you are almost guaranteed to hit 5’. Just ask the astronauts. When they return from missions in space, they return taller than when they left. Just giving kids one more reason why they should strive to be an astronaut when they grow up.
This is also why you’re the tallest first thing in the morning before the discs have had to endure an entire day’s worth of compression. This gravity thing has quite the impact, doesn’t it? Yeah, so much so that after the age of 40, the average person shrinks 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch every decade. Moral of the story… be sure to keep the yard stick right next to the bed and make sure you get one final good measurement before you hit 40. It’s all downhill after that… literally.
Now that we know a little bit more about this structure that protects trillions of nerve fibers, why don’t we learn about some of the biggest ways we are mistreating it on a daily basis. Here’s a not-so-fun fact – 8 out of 10 Americans will suffer from back pain at some point or another. The most common cause is from trauma, by means of a car accident. But nowadays, our lifestyle is becoming almost just as traumatic.
For every inch that your head moves forward of your shoulders, it adds 10 lbs. to the relative weight of the skull. Ruh-roh. Why is this a problem? Because almost EVERYTHING is bringing our head forward of our shoulders these days – looking down to text, hunching forward over the computer at your desk, driving in the car, sitting on the couch. I challenge you to spend the next 24 hours consciously focusing on where your head sits in relation to your shoulders. This could be scary.
Now how about that whole sitting at a desk thing? We seem to be doing a whole lot of that these days, don’t we? Well here’s another not-so-fun-fact – sitting in a forward-hunched position over a desk, adds an average of 200 lbs. of pressure on the lumbar spine (AKA low-back). Holy smokes… so the 2 newest prominent lifestyle changes – texting and spending time over the computer – are putting enormous amounts of stress on our spines.
OK so we are putting a bunch of extra stress on our spines, what’s the big deal? Well remember that whole part about what your spine is protecting? That nervous system thing. Remember, the system that controls every other system in the body? Well here’s the bad news… when you stress the spine, you are directly stressing the nervous system as well. Some of the more common symptoms that this results in are headaches, migraines, aches and pains throughout the spine and extremities, numbness, tingling, sleeping issues, decreased range of motion, difficulty sitting, standing, laying down, or walking. In a nutshell, stress and damage to the spine equates to a deteriorated quality of life.
So what all does this mean? It means it’s on each and every one of us to be proactive with our spinal hygiene (posture, stretching, core exercises, etc.); it means companies like Apple or Microsoft are single-handedly going to keep chiropractors busy helping new patients; but most importantly, knowledge is power – it means spinal issues must be corrected, not neglected, if you plan to maintain a high quality of life for years to come.
So what’s a great next step? Do some research, Google “chiropractor near me”, or in my case “Littleton chiropractor”, and find an office that can assess your health needs & set you up with a plan for success.
That’s it. You’ve officially been edumacated. Class is adjourned… for the next few weeks :)