Live Long and Prosper with a Healthy Spine
Sep 30, 2016 12:15PM
by Rene Ng, DOM, AP, L.Ac
If you have ever visited Hong Kong, China––or any Asian country, for that matter––you have likely come across large groups of elderly people engaging in various stretch exercises like Tai Chi and Qi Gong, the ancient art of breathing, in a public park. This is a common practice both in China and throughout the Far East. In fact, similar groups can be seen practicing the same form of exercises in public parks around San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City near neighborhoods with high Asian populations. But what are they trying to achieve?
The Importance of the Healthy Spine
First and foremost, these individuals are practicing deep, relaxed breathing to fill their lungs with large amounts of fresh oxygen. This accounts for why they exercise in the morning before the sun comes out. Another important reason for these exercises is to stretch the back muscles and straighten the spine. According to Chinese Medicine, the spine is a crucial part of our anatomy. There are two major energetic pathways that run lateral to the spine from which all other energetic pathways flow.
If these two pathways are obstructed and cannot flow smoothly, imbalance occurs and illnesses will prevail. Also, blood and Qi cannot flow smoothly to the brain, causing the individual to experience brain fog, poor memory, lethargy and fatigue, migraines and poor attention span, among other symptoms. Over thousands of years, research has shown that frequent and continual stretching and breathing exercises like those at the parks promote limber and energetic bodies which often translates to longevity.
Western Medicine shares a similar view in the importance of spine health. This was shared with me by a friend of mine Dr. Juan Caceres, a Sarasota-based holistic chiropractor. These are his words on the subject:
“Why is spine health so important? Could it be the key to achieving good health? This is a question we must ask ourselves when we talk about wellness. Some of the earliest healers in the history of our world understood the relationship between health and the condition of our spines. Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine, once said, ‘Look well to the spine for the cause of disease.’
To better understand the importance of spinal health, we must understand the main functions of the spine. First, it serves as a pillar to support the body’s weight and maintain posture. Without the spine, we would be unable to stand or support our weight. Second, it serves as a connection between the upper extremities (e.g. shoulders and arms) and lower extremities (e.g. legs and feet). Third and most important, our spine protects the nervous system. Why is this vital? Our nervous system is the most important system in our bodies––the one that rules them all. Without it, we wouldn’t be alive.
The nervous system is how our bodies communicate with organ systems and the outside world. It is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. For example, when you ingest a piece of food, your stomach sends a signal to your brain through the nerves and spinal cord, then your brain sends another signal telling your stomach to digest.
This is essentially how the nervous system communicates throughout the body. From telling the heart to beat, digestion to occur and lungs to draw breath, to experiencing the feeling of a summer breeze, the soft touch of another’s hand and the reaction to a hot surface, the nervous system controls everything. Because our spines protect this system, it is vital to our well-being that we take care of it.
Our spines are under constant stress every single day. Driving, sitting in front of a computer for long hours, working out, texting and even sleeping are examples of stressors that our spine suffers on a daily basis. When these activities are combined with improper biomechanics, they can cause spinal misalignment.
These misalignments, on top of causing pain, interfere with nervous system communication which can be detrimental to our health. Imagine the same example about ingesting a piece of food, but now there are misalignments in your spine. The information going to and from your brain now has interference and, consequently, your stomach cannot perform proper digestion.
Chiropractors are known for treating these misalignments––also known as subluxations¬¬––and, therefore, help maintain your spinal health. Chiropractic adjustments re-establish the brain and body connection by releasing any stress or tension that is placed on the nerves caused by these misalignments, allowing your nervous system to function at its optimum ability.
Chiropractic is for everyone and for all ages. It is much more than treating pain and musculoskeletal issues. Regular visits enhance your life by improving function, structure and chemical signals throughout your nervous system––essentials required for you to perform at full potential and to function at your best. Be sure to include Chiropractic care when considering your spinal health.”
Another example of the spinal column’s importance for overall health can be seen in dermatomes. According to MedScape, a dermatome is “an area of skin in which sensory nerves derive from a single spinal nerve root. The 31 spine segments on each side give rise to 31 spinal nerves which are composed of eight cervical, 12 thoracic, five lumbar, five sacral, and one coccygeal spinal nerve. Dermatomes exist for each of these spinal nerves, except the first cervical spinal nerve.
Sensory information from a specific dermatome is transmitted by the sensory nerve fibers to the spinal nerve of a specific segment of the spinal cord.” Here, it is believed that an issue with a specific area, along the spinal column at a certain spine segment, will cause symptoms that can be detected along the dermatome area corresponding to that segment.
For example, an individual presenting with numbness and tingling between the thumb and middle finger will be checked for any issues appearing along the cervical segments C5-C7. This is the main reason why you are typically given a scan, like an MRI along the neck area, if your chief complaint is numbness and tingling going down the arm and into the fingers.
How to Keep the Spine Healthy
Think about how an electric cable works. The outside layer of the cable protects the fibers inside. Electricity is carried along these fibers to an electrical device. The electric current flows at an optimal level when the entire cable is straightened out, the outside insulating layer contains no structural damaged and the fiber remains in optimal condition. This explains why, when an electrical device stops working, one of the key factors investigated is the cable itself. If both the device and cable are in working order, electricity will be emitted.
Our spinal column functions in similar fashion. The spinous process acts as the insulating, protective layer, while the spinal cord inside acts as the conducting layer. Qi––the life energy needed by our bodies to survive¬¬––and blood along the energy meridians located just lateral to the spinal column, while electrical energy runs along the spinal cord itself from the tailbone to the brain, feeding essential nourishment and energy to the brain, as well as energetic pathways to other bodily pathways.
If an issue exists with either the external insulating layer or the internal spinal cord or the quality/quantity of Qi and blood produced by our body, this important life-flow inside and alongside the spine will be impaired, and we will present with health or musculoskeletal issue. Therefore, to maintain a health spine, the spinal column must be straight, the internal spinal cord must be undamaged, and both Qi and blood flow must be in abundant supply.
Keeping the Spinal Column Straight
Chiropractic care is among the key ways to keep the spinal column straight through manipulation and adjustments. Healthy nutrition that promotes bone health and density complements chiropractic adjustments in straightening the spine and minimizing the potential for scoliosis or other structural alignment issues. In addition, practicing Tai Chi and Qi Gong can promote a healthy and straight spinal column as well.
Maintaining a Healthy Spinal Cord through Blood & Qi Flow
Chinese Medicine is the primary resource used in China to keep the spinal cord healthy and the body producing abundant, optimal quality Qi and blood. Chinese herbs and proper nutrition helps to keep the organ systems in the body strong, functioning and balanced. These organ systems are key to the continual, optimal production of Qi and blood. Acupuncture, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Gua Sha, Cupping, An Mo massage and other modalities are also used to keep the Qi and Blood flowing smoothly in the correct direction––not just along the spine, but throughout the whole body.
Keeping the Supporting Back Muscles Strong
The muscles along the back of the body, and especially those that run lateral and parallel to the spinal column, are essential in helping to keep this column straight. They are also important in preventing injuries when we use our bodies doing sports, picking up things, twisting our bodies, sitting on bad furniture, etc. In addition to good nutrition and hydration, good exercise is very important in keeping these muscles healthy. Working with a good Physical Therapist and / or at conditioning centers such as the Slow Zone in downtown Sarasota can go a long way towards this.
As we age, the goal is to remain healthy individuals with an active, adventurous quality of life. Maintaining a healthy spine is not just important––it is essential if you desire this type of aging process. If you wait until the onset of spinal issues, it’s already too late. Preventative maintenance is the key. So, don’t hesitate to contact your Acupuncture Physician and Chiropractor, then start taking control of your health, quality of life and preventing major issues from occurring.
Upcoming Events on Spine Health
On October 26, come to a free talk on “Maintaining Spinal Health” at the Slow Zone in downtown Sarasota. This talk will be presented by Dr. Juan Caceres, DC), Dr. Rene Ng AP, and Pamela Kirscher. Space is limited, so reserve your spot today.
In addition, Slow Zone is partnering with Vitality Chiropractic Family Practice and Chinese Medical Solutions Acupuncture Center to offer an informational event on spine health in November. This event, called “Wine and Spine,” will explain on how to maintain your spinal health. There will also be free consultations, tongue and pulse diagnosis, blood pressure taking and chair massages. Check next month’s issue of Natural Awakenings for more details on this event.
Location: 1509 State St., Sarasota. To make reservations, call 941-330-8100. Dr. Juan Caceres, DC, is with the Vitality Chiropractic Family Practice and can be reached at 941-487-7403. Slow Zone can be reached at 941-330-8100 (ask for Pamela Kirscher). Chinese Medical Solutions Acupuncture Center can be reached at 941-773-5156.
Rene Ng, AP, L.Ac., is a popular board-certified, licensed Acupuncture Physician and Chinese Herbalist in Sarasota. Working with trauma, scoliosis, and back pain are among his primary specialties. He is also a four-time winner of Sarasota’s “Favorite Acupuncture Physician” award. For more information, email [email protected] or visit ChineseMedicalSolutions.com.