Prevention Tips: How to Avoid Getting Herniated Discs
“Prevention is better than cure,” right? Thomas Adams, a 16th Century probably said it better – “Prevention is so much better than healing because it saves the labour of being sick.” Anyone who has had the misfortune of experiencing neck pain or back pain has probably felt these words on a level deeper than anyone who hasn’t before. The recovery from a slipped disc can be long and filled with ups and downs, so let’s take a look at how we can prevent slipped discs, or to prevent a herniated disc recurrence in the first place!
What Causes Herniated Disc?
To identify how we can prevent herniated discs, we should understand what causes it in the first place. There are several factors can contribute to a disc rupture, including:
Human intervertebral discs (the jelly-like material in between your spinal bones which is responsible for absorbing loads while you move) often undergo degenerative changes when a person gets older. Imagine them like hinges on a very old door – the joints of that door may start to become stiff, become difficult to move, and require a little push every now and then to open and close properly. The same happens in our spine. If our joints aren’t maintained in decent condition, the space between our intervertebral joints starts to narrow and lose their mobility. This can contribute to excessive load on our discs and lead to a slipped disc.
In a large study of 23,048 respondents, researchers found that being overweight adds to the burden of low back pain and the occurrence of intervertebral disc disease (a.k.a. Slipped discs). There are also many other studies supporting the dose-response relationship between obesity and low back pain: Long story short, the more obese the individual, the higher the odds for low back pain to occur and the greater the intensity of back pain. Increased body loads on the spine tend to wear it down faster over time.
Like the analogy of the door, something that is used over and over again and in the same direction can cause wearing down of the hinge or joint faster than other parts which are not used to the same degree. That is why we recommend getting looked at by your chiropractor or physiotherapist so they can assess which parts of your spine are not being used as much, and which parts of your spine might be overloaded.
When our spines are already starting to feel the effects of prolonged loading from sitting or standing for too long at work, it doesn’t take much for it to ‘snap’ – and not like Reese Witherspoon’s bend-and-snap! Suddenly forcing a loaded joint to bend or twist in a way that it’s not used to can cause muscles to spasm up and provides an opportunity for a slipped disc to occur.
Can I prevent a slipped disc from occurring?
So, is it possible to take care of our spines in a way that prevents slipped discs from occurring? Yes! Some simple ways you can do to prevent a slipped disc from occurring would be to:
A combination of mobility and strengthening exercises keeps your spine moving well and strong. The ‘moving well’ part is important because, like we always say, if you don’t move it you’ll lose it. Being able to move all parts of your spine well keeps loads evenly distributed during your normal daily life activities and prevents one area of your spine from being overloaded too much (like your lower back). Keeping it ‘strong’ means that your muscles are also able to sustain the weight and load of the activities you do throughout your life such as carrying your child or lifting your groceries.
If you have to carry items often due to your job nature, use your legs and not the back to lift heavy items up. Bending over like the first picture means that you’re using your lower back over and over again, putting it at risk of a slipped disc. If you’re a weight-lifter and regularly include deadlifts as part of your gym routine, this is a reminder for you to focus on the correct lifting posture more than on the weights!
Sitting for long periods of time actually places a lot of strain on your lower back, even though it might seem counterintuitive – since I’m sitting, doesn’t that mean I’m not straining my spine or my back? Not so. Prolonged sitting of as little as 4 hours a day can increase pressures of the L4-5 disc and the longer you sit, the higher the risk for development of a slipped disc. So, move regularly throughout the work day. Get up every hour to move around for 5-10 minutes and do some stretching! 10 years from now, your body will thank you for it.
Staying hydrated keeps your cells signalling well. This is especially important for your brain (you need it to focus at work well!), and your spine (your intervertebral discs depend on your body’s water content for its nutrients!). This is why many health authorities recommend at least 2 litres of water intake daily. Some lifestyle habits that you may need to take note of if you have had a slipped disc before is alcohol and tobacco use. To prevent recurrence of a slipped disc, you need to reduce the intake of both as they can be very dehydrating, weaken disks, and make them vulnerable to rupture. Smoking also reduces the circulation to the spinal nerves and discs, which creates increased opportunity for degeneration and a herniated disc.
Stretching and daily mobility gets the fluid moving in and out of our spines. This is great for keeping our discs hydrated and healthy because 90% of our discs are fluid. Too much stagnated postures means that fluid tends to leak out because of the postures, but not enough fluid comes back in. Again, degeneration happens. When we stretch more, we become more flexible and our postures also improve as we learn to carry our own weight better. Good postures and movements help to keep that circulation going and the load off our spines.
If you have pain related to posture or are unsure of how to keep your spine mobile and healthy to prevent a slipped disc from happening, that’s why we’re here. Spinefit is a team of certified chiropractors and physiotherapists who are experienced in assessing your spine to give you the treatment that you need! Contact us here for a booking today.