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Healthy Hints

Fall 1997 Newsletter

This Issue:

"Better health leads to better dancing."

Healthy Spinal Curves: A Necessity for Sensational Dancing

By Rick Allen, DC

(Originally Published in Instep Dance Magazine.)

This month I will give you a bit of background on why spinal curves are important for the health of your nervous system and, consequently, your whole body.

Listening to your concerns is a vital part of health care photo

The key to long term health and great dancing is proper balance - physical, chemical, emotional and spiritual. Simplistically, your body is comprised of bones, muscles, ligaments, and connective fascia enclosing organs. And, as the song goes, "them bones, them bones, gonna rise again, gonna dance and exercise again" under the control of the nervous system. (At least that's how I remember it. My apologies to Little Abner.)

Every action is controlled by the nervous system - organ function, posture and movement. The bony housing of the skull and spinal column protects the central nervous system, composed of the brain and spinal cord. The nervous system both influences and is influenced by posture. For instance, emotional conditions, such as anxiety or depression, are reflected in a forward head posture. I remember a cartoon of Charlie Brown looking depressed, with the classic forward head posture. You can tell he is depressed, just by looking at him. Conversely, a forward head posture, often with a straight neck, forces the weight of the head down, tightening neck muscles, altering breathing, leading to headaches and creating emotional upheaval. Think of it as a spiral: emotional turmoil leads to poor posture leads, which leads to.... You get the picture?

Regular massage and chiropractic care helps keep your neck healthy

Long term, the altered weight of a forward head posture leads to flattening of intervertebral disc spaces. On x-ray film they appear as "empty" spaces between the vertebrae. In reality, they are the spongy cushions between each bone in the spinal column. They don't have a direct blood supply to maintain their health. Instead, they soak up nutrients and dispose of metabolic waste by a squishing motion just like sponges. Each time your spine moves the disc imbibes spinal fluid. If two or more adjacent vertebrae are stuck or fixated, the disc(s) between cannot get the necessary nutrients. On x-ray film the spaces shrink between the bones. Over years, the disc dries out, becomes more fragile, and may even rupture with a stress as small as just bending over, let alone a fancy dance move! This process is called degenerative joint disease or DJD.

Another degenerative process also occurs insidiously with time and poor spinal curves: osteoarthritis and bone spurs. Contrary to what you might think, bone is alive and constantly changes shape in response to the stresses placed on it according to Wolff's Law. Osteoarthritis and spurs may form with trauma and altered spinal biomechanics. The spurs interfere with proper joint motion. If the spurs are pointed toward the spinal cord, they can physically interfere with nerve function. If the spurs are long enough, they may actually meet, fusing like stalactites and stalagmites in a cave.

A supple back is crucial for spinal health. Chiropractor adjustment and myofascial release keep the joints of the spine moving properly.

The degenerative process also leads to soft tissue swelling which can also press on the nerves, interfering with their proper function. This swelling and irritation also releases histamines and other chemicals that interfere with the nerve transmission. You might think of this as damage to the "wiring" of your body. Just as damage to phone wires would interfere with phone transmission, pressure or chemical irritation will interfere with the function of your body.

The technical term for this process is the "vertebral subluxation complex." While I described the process for the neck or cervical spine, the same process can occur in the low back or lumbar spine. Obviously, you want to avoid this problem by a combination of good nutrition, regular stretching and exercise, and regular spinal care just like regular dental care. Along with chiropractic adjustment, massage, myofascial release, and nutritional counseling, which I consider vital for a long-term healthy, subluxation-free life, I often prescribe specific exercises and a "posture pump" for daily use at home to counter the effects of gravity, stress and poor posture.

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[ Pict of Duck about to smash computer with ax ] Stress

  • Take a few deep breaths. Breath in slowly, then slowly exhale. Picture the tension leaving your body as you let all the air out.

  • Take a walk - alone, with a friend, or with the dog.

  • Get up and dance. (As the columnist for Instep Ballroom magazine, I consider this to be a most appropriate suggestion.)

  • Listen to some music that relaxes you - baroque is best.

  • Have a cup of tea, mineral water, fruit or vegetable juice, or bot broth. Avoid alcohol or caffeine.

  • Laugh out loud.

  • Volunteer to help someone.

  • Set limits on your obligations. Learn to say "no" to overcommitment. Always keep some time for yourself.

  • Exercise. Any aerobic workout that you enjoy will do.

  • Sing a song. Don't worry how you sound. Just the process of singing can relieve tension.

Exercise: The Best "Drug" in the World

It's been said that we have three ways to rid ourselves of stress: alcohol, drugs or exercise. The first two have obvious detrimental effects. Exercise, on the other hand, has many beneficial effects. As Covert Bailey says, "If the benefits of exercise could be put into a bottle, it would be the most widely-prescribed drug in the world." Guess that makes exercise the best "drug" in the world!

Yet, when I counsel a patient to exercise, I often get an answer like, "Yeah, doc, I know all about exercise and diet, but what can I really do to help?"

Often it appears that things with which you are very familiar are automatically either ignored or discounted. Don't ignore or discount this miracle cure.

Among the many benefits of exercise are:

Cardiovascular benefits - lowers total cholesterol, lowers the bad LDL cholesterol, raises the good HDL cholesterol, decreases blood pressure, decreases frequency of heart disease.

Immune system benefits - decreases number and severity of colds and flu, decreases rates of cancer.

Digestive benefits - improves digestion, cures constipation.

Blood sugar benefits - helps normalize levels, preventing or controlling hypoglycemia and adult diabetes.

Obesity - increases use of calories at rest (with a carry-over effect to the next day!), increases muscle-to-fat ratio, routine use over years cures obesity.

Mental health benefits - lowers stress, elevates mood, enhances sense of well being, eases depression and grief.

Sexuality benefits - enhances sexual enjoyment, regular use enhances sexual attractiveness.

Miscellaneous benefits - improves body odor, decreases tendency to abuse damaging drugs, alcohol and tobacco, increases average life span, improves quality of life (especially in later years).

So why doesn't everyone use this miracle "drug", especially since it's inexpensive and readily available? The answer is that you can't just go out and buy a bottle. Everyone has to put in time and effort to get their own personal supply.

Take another look at the list of benefits. Start taking the steps, even little baby steps, toward better health.

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