Our spine is composed of hard bones that protect the soft tissues of the spinal cord. However, despite the toughness of our spine, it can still be broken or dislocated in a variety of ways and cause injury to the spinal cord. Injuries can occur at any level of the spine. The segment of the cord injured, and the severity of the injury will determine which part of our body that will be compromised. The most common cause of spinal injury is trauma. Almost half of the cases of trauma are from motor vehicle accidents. Other types of trauma include the following:
- Violence (stabbing or gunshot wounds to the spine)
- Fall from heights
- Sports injuries like diving, golf, basketball, gymnastics, equestrian – catastrophic falls may crush and compress the vertebrae in the neck
- Automobile accidents – most often responsible for injuries in the thoracic and lumbar area
Here are some safety reminders to reduce the risk of spine injuries:
- Exercise your core. Strong core muscles are important to strengthen your back and avoid injury. Low-impact cardiovascular exercises like walking increase blood flow to the spine and nourishes and hydrates the structures in your back.
- Correct your posture. Poor posture adds pressure on your back and worsens the pain caused by degenerated vertebral discs.
- Improve your overall physical health. Improving your overall physical fitness and general health will benefit your spine as well. Be sure to drink plenty of water, minimize or avoid drinking alcohol and avoid smoking and taking prohibited drugs.
- Practice the correct lifting technique. Always be sure to bend at the hips and not the lower back. Bending the knees while keeping the chest pointing forward will guarantee a straight back. The shoulders should be kept in line with the hips to avoid twisting. Lastly, keep the weight of the object closer to your body.
- Drive safely. Motor vehicular accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. Always wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a car. Make sure that your child also wears a seat belt or use an age and weight appropriate car seat whenever traveling with you. To protect them from serious airbag injuries, children under 12 years old should always ride in the back seat. Always wear the standard helmet while riding or driving a motorcycle.
- Don’t drink and drive. Driving while under the influence of alcohol is strictly prohibited by the law. Never ride with a driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Prevent falls. The place had rails along the stairway. Use a step stool provided with a grab bar to reach objects in high places. Place nonslip mats in bathroom tub or shower. Use safety gates to block the stairs and install window guards when living with young children.
- Follow the recommended guidelines when playing sports. A thorough warm-up should be completed prior to engaging in sporting activities. Always wear the recommended safety gear. Always protect your head first.
- Always check the water depth before diving. Make sure you do not dive into shallow waters. Always supervise your child during swimming activities. Never dive into a pool that is less than 3 meters or 9 feet deep. Never dive into an above ground pool and do not dive into any water of which you do not know the depth.
Not all back injuries can be prevented but you can use the following spine injury prevention tips to reduce your risk of suffering from back strain or sprain:
- Keep your muscles and bones strong by eating a well-balanced and healthy diet.
- Maintain your weight within a range that is appropriate for your age, height, and body-type. Extra weight adds stress to the lower back.
- Make exercise a part of your normal daily routine. Regular stretching will keep your joints flexible. Weight-bearing exercise helps keep your bones and your muscles healthy.
- Practice safety habits at home. Wear shoes that fit your feet. Keep stairs and pathways well-lit and clutter-free.
- Practice safety habits away from home. Don’t walk in snow, ice or water. Walk only on well-lit pathways.
- Practice good posture. Sit and stand up straight and tall: chin up, shoulders back, tummy tucked in. Always avoid twisting. If you work at a computer, have your screen or monitor at eye level. A chair that swivels might be helpful as well as one that has armrests.
- Avoid periods of prolonged sitting or standing. If you work at a desk, change positions often. If you can’t take frequent breaks to get up and walk around, at least get up from your chair and stand beside your desk every 30 to 60 minutes to stretch your back and get the blood flowing to all areas of your spine and back.
- If you have to lift, know your own strength and ask for help when needed. Use your legs to lift; not your back. When carrying a load, keep it tucked in close to your body.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking robs your body of vital nutrients and interrupts the flow of blood to the muscles.
- Stay hydrated by drinking enough water. As we grow older, wear and tear damage occur to the spine. The discs between our vertebrae (back bones) can dehydrate and become flat. Small tears in the outer rims of these discs are common and can lead to herniated discs.
- Eat a healthy diet. If your nutrition is poor, your chance of a spinal injury is increased and you will also heal more slowly. Degeneration of the spinal discs occurs more quickly when adequate nutrition is not maintained.