Nutrition and Your Spine Part 2

Why giraffes don’t need chiropractors

Welcome back to our 4-part series on nutrition and your spine.  Last time we introduced you to nutrition and metabolism and now we move our attention to “Nutrition and Exercise.”  Did you know how well you do or don’t eat and exercise will make you more or less likely to have problems with your bones, joints, and connective tissue?

This series of articles will help you learn how to use nutrition to prevent injury and to foster better healing after an injury. We will describe how you can make simple changes to your diet and other lifestyle habits. Small changes can be helpful to avoid or care for both painful spine conditions as well as most other musculoskeletal problems.

How does nutrition affect the spine?
Nutrition and exercise/activity will determine how strong your bones and connective tissue are. We begin to build our skeleton and connective tissue before we are born, but our diet and activity levels in childhood have a major effect on how strong we are as adults. What you eat and how you move (or don’t move) during your whole life will decide how able you are to repair bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Everyone has to replace body tissues due to normal everyday wear and tear. Some of us also have repair work to do after injuries or surgery. The raw material for repair comes from our diet. Vitamin C, all of the B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin K, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, boron, and manganese are especially important for bone and connective tissue health. Drinking enough water is also essential.
Your spine is your backbone. The bony pieces of the spine are called vertebrae. There are 33 of these bones. Between each vertebra is a disk made of tough cartilage with a fluid-filled center. These disks provide the cushion that allows your backbone to bend and twist.  Disks also act as shock absorbers as we walk, run, and jump. Each vertebral segment consists of bone next to the bone with a cartilage cushion between. They are tied together with connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons.

The movement itself pumps fluid into and out of your disks, the cartilage cushions of your joint surfaces, and circulates blood into and out of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the spine.  See the table below for activity-based risk factors that detract from spinal health and requirements to promote spinal health:

Risk factors to spinal healthActivity requirements to promote spinal health
 Not challenging your heart rate to rise above 60-80 beats per minute for long periods of time Elevating your heart rate above 80-100 bpm for > 20 minutes
 Little or no weight-bearing forces through your arms or legs Requiring weight-bearing forces through your arms and legs
 Being confined to limited ranges of motion that contribute to imbalances of strength and flexibility (sitting for too long, etc) Full ROM activities through your spine and extremities

So, the enemy here—the thing that really hurts us—is inactivity. Where will you start then? Now that the days are getting longer, go for an evening walk in your neighborhood after dinner.  Can you bundle up and go for a lunchtime stroll outside of your workplace? You don’t have to invest in expensive workout equipment or gym memberships to make a big difference in promoting spinal health.

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