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Take steps towards better spinal health today

Take steps towards better spinal health today
18 May
11:12
Prevention: Take measures to look after your spine, and your general bone health, to avoid problems that will eventually leave you with no alternative but surgery.

Prevention: Take measures to look after your spine, and your general bone health, to avoid problems that will eventually leave you with no alternative but surgery.

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The first thing practitioners tend to tell you is that you should try to avoid spinal surgery if you can.

Ideally, it is better to deal with the pain without surgery.

Dr Nicholas Tsai, orthopaedic surgeon

“If tablets, injection or physiotherapy doesn’t work, that’s when we offer them surgery,” Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Nicholas Tsai said

Lumbar fusion (lower back) and cervical disc replacement (neck region) are both available to those who really need one of them, but you’re still better off preventing the need for either of them if you possibly can.

Yes, many people will develop chronic conditions of the spine that they could not avoid.

Examples include deformities like scoliosis, an infection of some sort, or a trauma from an accident.

However, many others suffer neck or back pain that could have been avoided, or the risk could have at least been lowered significantly. 

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Some preventative measures to keep in mind and look after your spine include:

  • Bend those knees to reach down or pick something up, whether you’re at work, at home, shopping, or wherever.
  • Maintain a suitable posture at all times (sitting, driving, even when you’re looking down at screens).
  • Move your feet to turn when standing rather than twisting your back (retail workers get taught this nowadays).
  • Be careful with other twisting motions, such as checking the traffic behind you (especially when doing it frequently as you do for a bike).
  • Look after your general bone health (and density) with good nutrition, regular small doses of Vitamin D, and exercise.
  • Do exercises that help improve your core strength and stability.
  • Use the correct form when lifting weights or doing other exercises. Seek the services of a qualified fitness instructor/trainer to learn this if you are inexperienced.
  • Your footwear may be the cause of (or a contributing factor to) poor skeletal alignment that leads to back problems. If this is the case a podiatrist can help.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Argue all you like about the root cause (poor posture, not bending at the knees, strain of the weight itself, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, other associated bad habits), the undeniable fact is overweight and obese people are more likely to suffer back pain (and other joint pain).
  • Don’t use back pain as an excuse to not exercise. Some rest is good (as necessary), but prolonged inactivity will just make it worse. You may need to change what you do for exercise though (at least temporarily).
  • Pay attention to any mild pain you do have. Treat it as the early warning it is and don’t push your luck with bad habits.
  • If you do feel something that gives you cause for concern, see your doctor.

Fortunately, if you do need to choose surgery the doctors tell us that the risks are low, the success rate is high and the techniques are constantly improving too.

Fusions increase the stability of the spine, but the downside is your back is still never the way it once was because one joint is no longer functional.

On the upside, for spinal screws “there are less-invasive ways to place them now,” said spinal surgeon Dr Michael Ow-Yang.

They can even do fusions with weak bones using a method called cement augmentation.

Meanwhile a cervical disc replacement will preserve motion in the neck region. 

Dr Ow-Yang said that cervical disc replacements have even been put in “military personnel and elite athletes with good success.”

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