Spine and nerve health
Six things you didn’t know about your spine, your nerve system and creating extraordinary health
By Dr Ellie Stockley, Chiropractor and Director at Life Chiropractic Studio
One of the most overlooked aspects of health and performance is the health of your spine and nerve system.
Let’s face it, most of us understand the importance of fuelling your body with good nutrition, exercising and sleeping well, but many of my practice members initially approached their health in a reactive or symptomatic mindset, and they didn’t initially realise how much their spine (and the nerve system it protects) affects their overall health.
Here are some things about your spine and proactive health you probably didn’t know.
1. Your spine and nerve system affect your whole body.
The nerves that originate at your spinal cord and exit your spine control a lot more than just the muscles – they control every function of your body. A disruption in biomechanical integrity, ie stress on the spine, can combine to create physiological dysfunction in the body.
2. Sitting all day is the new smoking.
Research is piling up that clearly shows the devastating impact sitting and poor posture have on your health. The truth is, your body is not designed to sit. We have evolved to walk, to stand, to run, to squat. Sitting for long periods puts extreme pressure on your spine and nerve system. As soon as you sit, electrical activity in your leg muscles shuts off and enzymes that help break down fat drop by 90 per cent. It has been found that people who sit for more than six hours per day are 40 per cent more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits for less than three hours a day – even if they exercise.
If you have to sit, sitting with your back at 135 degrees, leaning slightly backwards, puts less strain on your back than hunching forwards or even sitting straight.
3. Poor posture can reduce lung capacity up to 30 per cent.
Poor function of the thoracic spine has a large impact on the mobility of your rib cage, the activity of your respiratory muscles and also the nerves that control your lungs.
Stress on the thoracic spine from prolonged sitting and ‘slouched’ forward head posture is associated with decreased respiratory muscle strength, which affects your ability to breathe and can reduce lung capacity by up to 30 per cent. In my office I also regularly teach people breathing exercises to help prevent chest infections and increase lung capacity.
4. Symptoms and pain are poor indicators of health and function.
Typically, the average person will use a set of indicators such as pain, weakness or tingling. The conversation with yourself classically begins like this: “When I squat, my lower back hurts. What’s wrong with it?” There are a number of problems with this way of thinking. Firstly, pain and symptoms are very poor indicators of how you are functioning. They are what we call lagging indicators. The damage or dysfunction has been there a lot longer and it’s too late to go back. It’s like waiting for your car to blow up to know you should refill the oil tank or fill it with higher quality fuel.
By the time your joint or intervertebral disc has worn out enough to cause pain, your body has been putting up with dysfunction. And if you simply try and treat the symptom without addressing the cause, it’s like sticking a piece of tape over a flashing oil light – the light isn’t annoying you any more, but your car is still ultimately going to break down.
5. To experience your full health potential, you need to be proactive.
The biggest mistake we make when it comes to looking after our body is that we wait for pain to develop before acting. We then we jump to interventions without giving our body what it needs for health first.
Imagine you see a wilting plant. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? Typically, you will think: “That plant needs water”, right? That is, what does that plant need or what is that plant missing that made it unhealthy? So before you go about cutting bits off or spraying it with pesticides, you make sure that the plant has everything it needs for health first, and then you might decide it needs some help in the form of intervention.
Translate this to a human example. We often forget that our bodies have fundamental requirements for health, too, like nutrients, exercise, sleep, a healthy skeleton and nerve supply. And when you think about most chronic pain and disease, most of it arises from a lack or imbalance in one of these requirements. Yet most of the time we jump to some kind of symptom-suppressing intervention before we satisfy the human body’s requirements for life. Now let’s be clear, I’m not saying we never need those things, but it’s important to teach people to change the way they’re living so that the body doesn’t recreate the same problem it created the first time.
Imagine having a brown leaf and you cut the brown leaf off, but your plant never ever gets what it needs. What colour is the next leaf going to be? Brown, because the body will always recreate the same expression of the choices that you’re making, over and over and over again.
6. Creating health is completely different to treating pain and disease.
Chiropractic and proactive health isn’t about fixing pain or curing a condition – it is about creating health by proactively giving your body what it requires for health first.
Health is about so much more than being pain free or symptom free. I often ask people, would you rather be healthy or just not sick? Would you rather be rich or just not poor? Would you rather be well or just not ill? Most of us are under the impression that to be healthy, we simply wait for symptoms to arise and then fight them with some kind of intervention to make us not sick.
The truth is, your body is amazing – you are designed to experience a far greater level of energy and vitality than just being not sick. But in order for you to experience this you need to do it proactively by giving your body what it requires for health. Imagine this, who do you call when your house is on fire? The fire brigade. They come to your house, put out the fire and do an amazing job of saving your house. But the next day when you want to make your house liveable again, optimal again, who do you call? The fire brigade? Of course not. You call builders, architects and people who know how to create an amazing house.
Now if your body is in health crisis, who is the first person you should call? The medical doctor. They might have to give you some life-saving intervention like medication, surgery or chemotherapy, for example. They provide a critical function in saving your life, treating disease and making you feel better.
But the big mistake we make is that we confuse treating disease and creating health – we often try and use these ‘interventions’ to create health, and it simply doesn’t work. Medical care serves a vitally important function, but we need to clearly identify the terms of when we should use these interventions and then make sure we are giving the body what it needs to create health every single day – nutrients, movement, sleep, a healthy nerve system – and do it every day whether you are healthy, whether you’re sick, whether you’re in pain, whether you’re not in pain. That is the only way you can experience your full health potential.
Dr Ellie Stockley is Director at Life Chiropractic Studio in Richmond. As an integrated part of care, Dr Ellie and the team teach a very powerful model of health that empowers practice members to create lasting health proactively, in a logical, step-by-step way. Dr Ellie offers Nourish Melbourne Members an initial chiropractic and wellness consult for $59 (Value: $170) and ongoing savings on pre-payment of 14 sessions or more.
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