Last week I was asked to speak at the L Club in on Sloane Street about the importance of the spine for health throughout life. I thought I would share with you what I shared with the audience of the L Club how your spine develops, what injuries it is most vulnerable to at certain parts during your life and how you can minimise the risk of injury as you age. If you are tempted to just read what it says under your current age bracket this would be foolish. Remember what you have done in the past and what you do now will all influence how the spine will respond in later years. Read on to find out more....
When we are born our spines are curved like a shell. In the first 2 years up to when we walk we go through huge amounts of development and change in the spine. We learn how to move it and stabilise it and to sit up, crawl and walk the spine changes alignment. As we grow our spines take on three curves - cervical, thoracic and lumbar and these curves are responsible for maintaining good posture, keeping our intervertebral discs in place and providing shock absorption. This is one of the most important developmental stages of our lives and we should never underestimate the value of babies learning to move efficiently and effectively. The movements and postures that babies learn here serve them for the rest of their lives which means if faulty movements are developed it will affect movement, co-ordination, posture and strength development in later years.
This is the time when we should move and learn sports. Jumping around and pounding on our bones is the best way to make them dense and strong coupled with a good intake of calcium from leafy greens and vitamin D from the sun as well as good overall nutrition. Any weight bearing sports are good for bone density development (swimming is a non-weight bearing sport). Intense learning of sports is not recommended until age 7. Ideally children should try out lots of different activities. At age 7 if children show an interest in a particular sport they have enough neural development to learn more intensely. Children should not lift heavy weights as it can stunt growth.
When we get to 21 we have fully grown but we can still increase our bone density. Bone density is exceptionally important for the prevention of osteoporosis. Between 30-35 our bones begin ageing and it is no longer possible to increase our bone density - we can only slow the rate of decline. This is effectively done by weight bearing exercise such as strength training. The discs between your vertebrae have fluid and a jelly like substance inside which acts as part of the shock absorption I mentioned earlier. At at 30 our bones cannot get any denser. From here our bones go through a process of becoming less dense.
This is the time when the spine is most vulnerable to disc injuries. Mostly because of our lifestyles - too much sitting and not enough movement. Up to age 45 the discs are refilled with fluid each night as part of the recovery process when we sleep. This is why you are taller in the morning and shorter at night! One of the reasons why disc injuries happen between 30-45 years is because of years of 'ligamentous creep' the connective tissues in the spine stretching over time to accommodate poor posture. Ligaments are the strongest structures in our bodies connecting bone to bone and they give our skeleton stability. Once ligaments are stretched they do not go back to their original length. Over time, years of time, it makes the spine unstable and then the discs become vulnerable to pressing out on to the nerves.
Past 45 the discs begin to dry up and the spine becomes stiffer. This actually has an advantage as the discs are less prone to pushing out against the nerves because they are less plump. However, less fluid in the discs means loss of disc height. Firstly, you lose height which is not so bad. Secondly, your vertebrae are much closer together so the ligaments become lax and can create instability. This hinders movement, particularly rotation, and can also lead to bone spurs and stenosis.
Depending on what you have done or not done with your body you may experience some pain or injury in your spine as you age - common but not normal issues are osteoporosis, arthritis, spondylitis, ankylosing spondylitis and postural imbalance. What I always find interesting is that most people as they age will have some sort of disc degeneration but not all suffer with pain from it. The key here is movement - the more active you are the less likely you are to feel pain.
The most important point here is what you can do to minimise the risk of injuries and diseases when you are older. Once you have these issues they can be managed but they are not reversible.
If you want to know more about minimising the risk of spinal complications when you are older or maybe you have a spinal injury that you'd like to know how to manage better then contact me at