10 facts about your amazing spine!

osteo-with-spine-modelChances are you’ve never stopped to think about how amazing your spine is. It’s easy to take it for granted, until something goes wrong and you suffer back pain.

The spine has three important functions:

  • To support the weight of your body
  • To provide flexibility for movement,
  • And to protect nerve roots and fibres and form a protective surrounding for the spinal cord.

We believe the spine is a fascinating and very complex structure and one that deserves celebrating. In this week’s blog post we’ve gathered together 10 fascinating spine facts in celebration of our brilliant back bones:

  1. At birth the spine is made up of 33 bones called vertebrae. In a newborn baby the vertebrae begin as cartilage, and usually only become fully made up of bone (a process called ‘ossification’) by the time we’re around 25 years old?! It’s also normal for adults to have only 26 vertebrae since some fuse together as we grow.
  2. The spine usually consists of seven bones in the neck, 12 in the upper back and five in the lower back, and the sacral and coccygeal bones beneath.  Each and every bone is unique.
  3. Humans and giraffes have exactly the same number of bones in the neck – seven. Bet you thought a giraffe would have more! This demonstrates the flexibility and versatility of a giraffe’s spinal structure.
  4. The spine contains over 120 muscles, around 220 individual ligaments and 100 joints.
  5. The spinal cord weighs around 35 grams.
  6. The length of the spinal column in the average man is 70cm, and in the average woman it’s 60cm.
  7. The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system and is contained inside the spine. The rope-like cord ends two thirds of the way down the back. Below that it is medically known as the ‘cauda equina’ which means ‘horse’s tail’, so named because the strands of nerves inside the spine look like… you guessed it: a horse’s tail!
  8. The highest bone in the neck is the ‘atlas’ and is named after the Titan god Atlas. He was charged with holding up the sky – our humble neck bone was thought to hold up our whole head, and so aptly named.
  9. Cartilage is capable of expanding and contracting. In zero gravity environments, for example in space, astronauts can return to earth taller than when they left due to the expansion effect. Oppositely, gravity’s pull on our bodies over the years shrinks our cartilage, causing us to decrease in height as we age.
  10. Your spine carries more than a million electrical nerve messages between your brain and your body every single day.

Now you’ve got a better appreciation of how complex and wonderful your spine is, how about taking care of it better?

Read our post about the importance of strong core muscles to support your spine.

Get in touch with us to arrange a spinal health check with one of our experienced osteopaths.

How osteopathy can help manage arthritic joints

osteo-&-head-neck-old-manThis week is Arthritis Care Week in the UK. It aims to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with arthritis and is encouraging the 10 million people in the UK who have this degenerative condition to share their stories.

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain, swelling, inflammation and often stiffness in joints of the body. The most common form or arthritis in the UK is osteoarthritis. Often referred to as ‘wear and tear’ on the joints of the body, it is a degenerative joint condition most common in the over 50s and affecting more women than men. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the joints of the spine and neck, knees, hips and the base of the toes and hands.

We have written before about the complementary therapies that can bring relief from arthritic pain – click to read our post.

In this Arthritis Care Week post our osteopath Sebastian Contreras sets out in greater detail how osteopathy in particular can help people with arthritis to manage their condition. Seb says, “Just because you have been diagnosed with this degenerative condition, it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to help prevent further deterioration, reduce your pain levels or improve your function.”

Seven ways osteopathy can help arthritis sufferers:

  1. Osteopathy treatment can mobilise the arthritic joint within a patient’s pain free ranges to maintain or increase their joint range of motion.
  2. Osteopaths can mobilise joints adjacent to the arthritic joint so that they can take some of the stress and strain off the pathological joint. For example, if a patient has an arthritic hip, we would commonly work on the joints in the low back to make sure they are working as well as possible.
  3. Treatments may also work on the adjacent muscles of the arthritic joint as these soft tissues can tighten up because of the altered function of the joint, causing pain. For example, in the case of an arthritic hip, the muscles of the groin can tighten.
  4. In some arthritis cases, patients are overweight. Being overweight puts more strain on the joints, which increases the chance of pain and further deterioration of the arthritic joint.  But, because of the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, it is often difficult to exercise to lose weight. Osteopaths can offer practical advice on how to lose weight with diet and exercise suitable for the individual patient.
  5. Certain foods have been shown to increase inflammation in the body, and therefore inflammation in the arthritic joint. These foods include processed sugar, fried food and red meat. By limiting, or better excluding, these foods from your diet, you can reduce the pain associated with inflammation in the arthritic joint.
  6. Our osteopaths can advise on certain strengthening of flexibility exercises that can help support or reduce pressure on the arthritic joint.
  7. Osteopaths can help with a maintenance programme. Since arthritis is an irreversible condition, osteopaths will encourage regular treatment – every 4 to 12 weeks once the acute phase of the pain has settled down. This is much the same as the way a dentist works, keeping on top of the body’s health before a bigger problem arises.

This month in the practice we’re recommending glucosamine complex capsules, particular for people with osteoarthritis. Glucosamine, which is found naturally in the body, plays an important role in making glycosaminoglycans and glycoproteins. These are essential building blocks of many parts of our joints, including ligaments, tendons, cartilage and synovial fluid. It’s been suggested that the way these parts of our joints are built and maintained contributes to the development and the progression of osteoarthritis.

If you or a loved one have arthritis and would like to learn more about how osteopathy may help you, get in touch with our reception team on 0113 237 1173 or click to request a call back.

Five ways to boost your brain health

brainYou try to eat well, keep your weight down and take some exercise. But have you ever paid close attention to the health of your brain specifically?

Just as important as our physical health is that of our brains. Taking care of our grey matter can help us to live longer and with a greater quality of life to boot, by staving off brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Here are five ways you can boost your brain health every day:

Diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet rich in vitamins, essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and Omega 6, and wholegrains can help to protect our brains from disease. Be sure to get plenty of vitamin B12 which helps to keep our brains sharp as we age, and vitamin D which encourages nerve growth in the brain. Looking after your gut flora is important too – who would have thought that those daily probiotic drinks could benefit your brain as well as your belly?

Exercise

Staying active as we get older helps to stave off mental aging. As well as encouraging a healthy blood supply to the brain, exercise causes the brain to work at optimum capacity by multiplying nerve cells, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. Benefits to the brain of regular exercise include improved memory and the ability to pick up new skills more quickly.

Sleep

A poor night’s sleep has much more of an impact than simply leaving us groggy and craving coffee. Getting plenty of sleep is essential for our general health and wellbeing. Sleeping less than seven hours a night has been linked to memory loss and cognitive decline. What’s more, part of our brain is more active as we sleep, eliminating toxins and performing something akin to a reset to prepare us for the day ahead.

Not sleeping well? Get our tips on getting a good night’s shut-eye.

Music

Listening to music can improve our mental focus and enhance cognitive function. It’s thought that many parts of the brain are involved when we listen to or play a piece of music. In this way the whole brain is stimulated and engaged. So whether you’re into rock, pop or something more classical, music is beneficial to your brain.

Challenge your mind

It’s important that we keep on learning as we age, to continue to stimulate various parts of the brain. Activities like learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument can help to prevent brain ageing and cognitive decline. It’s thought that even searching the internet is helpful in stimulating different parts of the brain.

Another way to boost brain health is to break with your usual routine. Small changes in our daily activities can give our brains a mini workout. Things like using your other hand to brush your teeth or control your computer’s mouse will all get our brains working harder.

Useful links

How to get a good night’s sleep

sleep

Getting plenty of sleep is essential for our general health and wellbeing. It plays an important role in our immune function and our metabolism. When we’re well rested, we’re more focussed and can generally perform better. Sleeping well can also help to lower stress and boost mood. It’s thought that people who get more sleep throughout their lives live longer too.

Not getting enough sleep can also be a contributing factor to weight gain. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to make poor food choices, opting for high calorie, carbohydrate rich foods that will give us a short energy burst.

So how much is enough sleep? It’s recommended that the average adult gets around seven to nine hours of sleep a night, although that’s not a hard and fast rule and is influenced by an individual’s health and lifestyle. This chart from the National Sleep Foundation in America sets out the recommendations for different age groups, according to recent research from across the pond.

If you’re struggling to get off to sleep – or stay asleep once you’ve dropped off – here’s our advice:

  1. Try to have a regular bedtime routine. Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same times each day will help to programme your body into a good sleep pattern.
  2. Pay attention to your bedroom environment – does it help to conjure a mood of relaxation? It should be not too hot or cold, or too bright. Try to keep the bed as a place for rest and sleep too, not somewhere you spend time awake in the day.
  3. Avoid stimulants before bedtime – and we’re not just talking coffee, alcohol and energy drinks here. Lights from electronic devices, including digital alarm clocks, mobile phones and even external lights can interfere with our natural sleep/wake cycle, or our circadian rhythm.
  4. Exercise can help to help relieve the day’s stresses and strains – even just 10 minutes a day. But don’t do anything too energetic too close to bedtime!
  5. Don’t over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol late at night, just before bedtime, can play havoc with our sleep patterns. You may find that alcohol helps you to fall asleep initially, but it will interrupt your sleep during the night.
  6. If you’re a smoker, giving up smoking could improve your sleep. Smokers generally take longer to fall asleep, wake more often and regularly experience sleep disruption.
  7. Give yourself time to unwind before going to bed. Take a bath or shower, listen to some relaxing music, read a book – each of these helps to relax the mind and the body.
  8. If work or personal worries are on your mind, tackle them by making a list of things to do the following day. Writing them down will help to offload them, ready to be picked up again the following day.
  9. And if you find you can’t get off to sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again.

A number of complementary therapies can help with sleep disturbances, including reflexology, acupuncture and hypnotherapy. Ask a practitioner if you’d like to find out more about these treatments.

And if you do manage a decent night’s sleep but find you wake up with a bad back, your old mattress could be too blame. Here’s our advice on choosing a new mattress that will give your back the support it needs.