My spine had been a mess since I can remember and following a year of serious health issues in my family I decided prevention is the best cure and went to see one of the best physiotherapists in the country – if he’s good enough for Tina Maze, the record-breaking skier, he must be good enough for me.
To my surprise, my first consultation consisted mostly of education, something that’s unheard of in our medical system. And the information I was given reminded me heavily of the knowledge of Chinese medicine I already had, which surprised me even more in the most positive way possible.
Along with prescribed therapies, I also got a lot of homework that has the ability to completely transform the health of your spine. So what does the master of sports physiotherapy recommend?
How to keep your spine healthy like a pro athlete?
When talking about spine health, the part of it we mostly focus on are spinal or vertebral discs. Their function is to cushion the vertebrae and prevent them from rubbing together, causing pain and damage to the spinal nerve. The spinal rings are made of an outer ring, called annulus and a gel-like centre, called the nucleus.
A healthy nucleus contains around 80% water so we need to ensure a sufficient water intake to maintain its function. For most of us
this means a significant increase in water intake
A healthy nucleus contains around 80% water so we need to ensure a sufficient water intake to maintain its function. For most of us this means a significant increase in water intake – my ideal amount of water I should drink a day was calculated from my weight of just under 60 kilos to be around 2,3 litres. This number rises rapidly – it already surpasses 3 litres if you weigh more than 75 kilos.
How to drink water so the body can actually use it?
If you simply gobble down a litre of water at once, your body won’t be able to make any use of it. It’ll flush out your system and that’s about it.
You should drink at least two thirds of your water until 5pm. Our kidneys, responsible for cellular hydration, are most active from 5pm until 7pm so the water we need for their optimal activity should be in our bodies by then. It’s especially important to drink at least a glass of water before breakfast in the morning to give your body a healthy start. Save one glass of water for shortly before bedtime.
Drink water in up to three sips at a time. When you first start drinking water, swoosh your first sip around in your mouth to signal the brain you’re about to hydrate your body and it should start up all the systems necessary for its recycling. Continue sipping slowly.
Ideally, the water we drink should be at least room temperature, especially if you’re dealing with weak kidneys.
How to get water into our spinal discs?
This topic is still under research but it appears our diaphragm plays a very important role in the process.
As we age, our breathing changes,
becomes shallower and our diaphragm weakens, cutting fluid supply to our spinal discs.
Our diaphragm is connected to our spine in the back and allows us to widen the space between our vertebrae if we breathe correctly, with our tummy, just as we are taught in yoga classes. Apparently, infants breathe this way and crying is necessary to strengthen the diaphragm (also the reason babies need to be allowed to cry when not in actual distress, which can, in turn, speed up the time they need to start walking). As we age, our breathing changes, becomes shallower and our diaphragm weakens, cutting fluid supply to our spinal discs.
When we breathe properly, filling up our tummies with air, our vertebrae pull further apart, creating a vacuum effect and sucking in the water it needs from its surroundings. This is why drinking should be followed by a few deep breaths – not too many as your body may become overwhelmed with a sudden flow of oxygen it is no longer used to getting. If you overdo the breathing and get dizzy, breathe into your hands or a bag immediately to get some CO2 back into your body and prevent hyperventilation.
Further stabilizing the spine with kidneys
Amazingly, our spines side movements are stabilized by our kidneys. Keeping them healthy and firm is therefore of crucial importance if we wish to maintain the health of our spine. Again, this is where sufficient water intake comes into play, as well as other ways of supporting kidney health and energy but that’s a whole separate topic (Chinese medicine has all of the answers in my opinion).
Another trick you can try is also to massage the lower back by rubbing both your hands on it in circles for exactly 36 times.