The spine provides the structural framework to the entire body. The spinal cord runs through the middle of the spine and serves as the main highway of the nervous system by connecting the brain with other parts in the body. The vertebrae of the spine surround and protect the spinal cord.
It is imperative to keep the spine healthy and in good shape. When seen from the side, a normal spine reveals an S-shape. This unique curvature effectively absorbs forces of varying nature and intensity that are exerted on the body in an average day.
Similar to shock absorbers in a car, the spine transforms shocks into movement. This movement of spine in case of an external impact is facilitated by its S-shaped curvature. If the spine would be completely straight, the impact would affect the vertebral discs directly. As a result, the vertebral discs would tear out much sooner and expose the spinal cord to the peril of these forces.
Therefore, a healthy back: is similar to a shock absorption system that transforms force into movement within the reach of the S-shape.
A stiff lower back does not move easily and causes too much exertion on the vertebral discs leading to excessive disc compression. When your lower back is accustomed to the wrong posture (neglect), it cannot absorb shock without causing damage to the discs.
The vertebrae of the back are not simply stacked on top of each other but are separated by small elastic discs, similar to tiny cushions.
Healthy discs are elastic and a little ‘squishy’ and make up 20-25% of the total length of the vertebral column.
A vertebral disc is made of a gel-like center (nucleus pulposi) and an outer wall (annulus fibrosus).
Healthy vertebral discs consist of almost 90% water, just as in healthy infants. As one grows older, the body is unable to retain optimum water level in the discs. In a stiff lower back, the vertebral discs dry out more and become thinner. To maintain optimum hydration of the vertebral discs, good blood circulation in the vertebral region is necessary. This is achieved by a sustained and progressive use of the muscles surrounding the vertebrae.
A lower back without sufficient movement does not get enough blood circulation. This causes insufficient hydration of the discs. Discs in a rigid lower back, therefore, thin out faster as there is no shock absorption mechanism in place to stop them from wearing out.
Remember: good circulation = good hydration
Without adequate movement and exercise, people tend to become overweight, which places additional strain on the discs. and reduces blood supply to them. Thinner discs tend to slip out of position in the vertebrae easily and weak muscles are completely ineffective to prevent it from happening.
What Causes Neck Pain?
The common causes of neck pain are:
- Abnormalities in the bone or joints
- Trauma (injury)
- Bad posture
- Degenerative diseases
- Muscle strain
Most neck pain is associated with poor posture combined with age-related wear and tear. To help prevent neck pain, keep your head centered over your spine. Some simple changes in your daily routine may help. Consider trying to:
- Use good posture. When standing and sitting, be sure your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders.
- Take frequent breaks. If you travel long distances or work long hours at your computer, get up, move around and stretch your neck and shoulders.
- Adjust your desk, chair and computer so that the monitor is at eye level. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair's armrests.
- Avoid tucking the phone between your ear and shoulder when you talk. Use a headset or speakerphone instead.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking can put you at higher risk of developing neck pain.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder. The weight can strain your neck.
- Sleep in a good position. Your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use a small pillow under your neck. Try sleeping on your back with your thighs elevated on pillows, which will flatten your spinal muscles.