The DIY Approach To A Supple Spine
February 22, 2011 by Dr. Mark Wiley
The spine plays a vital role in pain relief. Impulses from the brain travel through nerves that exit the spinal column and bring feeling into every part of the body. When the spine is supple and the paraspinal muscles are relaxed, nerve impulses are sent without interruption or agitation. When the spine is out of alignment or the muscles around it are contracted, there can be nerve irritation and/or compression. If the nerve signal is interrupted the brain cannot get a clear idea of what the body needs, and this can lead to pain, inflammation, tingling and numbness.
Many people reach for pain-relieving analgesics and toxic anti-inflammatory medications to bring relief from the pain and/or inflammation. For the tingling and numbness, they ask for a prescription of muscle relaxants or go for chiropractic or massage care. As a last resort, many opt for surgery.
While each of these options can offer some relief, they also have their drawbacks. When it comes to the spine, it is best to always begin with a do-it-yourself approach. Doing it yourself is easy and requires less time than the commute to the docs.
And if you stretch the entire spine from head to hip, you will have hit all the places where imbalances occur. With time the symptoms in your back, neck, arms or legs may disappear altogether.
Neck And Upper Back Stretches
To make the neck supple you will want to stretch the cervical spine in four directions. Following are four exercises to accomplish this. In all cases, use gentle pulls and only go to the point where discomfort is first experienced. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds, then return to normal position before starting the next stretch. Repeat the series three times.
Chin to chest: Place your hands behind your head and gently pull your head downward, trying to touch your chin to your chest.
Ear to shoulder: Put your left hand in your pocket (if standing) or under your buttocks (if seated). Reach your right hand over your head, placing your fingers above your left ear. Gently pull your head to the right side, trying to touch your right ear to your right shoulder. Repeat on the opposite side.
Nose to underarm: Turn your head to the right and reach your right arm over the center of your face so that your forearm divides your face and your hand holds the back of your head. Pull your head diagonally downward, trying to touch your nose with your underarm. Repeat on the opposite side.
Head backward: Place your right fingers on your right temple area and gently push your head back toward the left side, trying to touch the left base of your skull with your left collarbone. Repeat on the opposite side.
Stretching and rotating movements are necessary to keep the mid back supple. Here’s what to do.
Backhand press: Clasp your hands so your fingers of each hand are inserted between each other. Hold at chest level and slowly press your hands forward. It should feel as if something is expanding in the space between your arms pushing your arms/hands away from your body. This will round your back for a gentle stretch, hold for 15 seconds.
Palm press: Repeat as above, this time rotating your hands as you press out so that your palms face outward. This provides a deeper stretch of the mid spine.
Modified cobra: Lie face down on the floor, arms bent and palms flat, as if in a push-up starting position. Slowly flex your neck, curling it upward and to the back.
Keep flexing your spine in sequence from neck to upper back to mid back to lower back, until much of your torso is lifted up off the ground. Your hands are only used for balance and not for pushing. The stretch is in the flexing of the spine. Hold in full flex for five to 10 seconds, then slowly and gently extend back to the neutral starting position. Repeat six times.
Lower Back Stretches
The lower back is where most people feel their pain. This pain is generally caused by limited range of motion and muscle contraction from sitting all through the day. Bending and twisting motions are needed to make it supple.
Supported squat: Hold on to the back of a chair (weighted down) or a stable surface — like a desk or countertop — with legs shoulder width apart and feet pointing forward. Slowly and gently bend down.
You are essentially squatting here, but using the support to control speed and how far you go down. Only go as far as you can until the first sign of pain is felt. Hold for three seconds at the low position, then stand back up and repeat 10 times. Each time should bring you closer to the ground.
Thigh hug: While standing, bend your knees and grasp your thighs, like hugging them with your arms. Simply relax and hold this position for 20 seconds without moving, and your lower back will start to release its grip and let go. Slowly stand back up and repeat twice more.
Pretzel twist: Sit on the floor with your feet together, arms by your side. Place your left foot on the floor on the right side of your right leg, by the knee. Drape your right arm over your left knee, then twist to your left, using your left hand for support. Repeat on the other side.
These are just a few examples of hundreds of stretches you can use to begin to help make the length of your spine supple. Some of these are found in yoga and others in physical therapy and other bodywork schools. The main thing is to begin a DIY regime and use books, the Internet and practitioners to take you from there.
Some of my patients have complained that they are in so much pain they cannot actually do some of these stretches. For acute pain and inflammation I always suggest taking a natural approach by adding aromatic spices to the diet (e.g., turmeric, ginger, cloves, mustard), drinking 10 glasses of water per day, walking to keep the blood moving and engaging in mindful breathing for stress relief.
Once you are able to get over the acute pain hump, these spinal stretches will do wonders to remove the imbalance causing the pain and keep you supple and your nerves sending proper signals to the brain. The cure is found in the prevention.
–Dr. Mark Wiley