House Calls

SUM 2017

House Calls Magazine is a quarterly publication that focuses on health and wellness. It includes a wide assortment of articles with topics on the latest health and wellness information, nutrition, safety, lifestyles, and more.

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h o u s e c a l l s { summer 2017 } 29 careful' prescription." Diagnoses such as degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis may call for a more-involved surgery known as a spinal fusion. The procedure relies on bone grafts, screws, and rods to join two or more vertebrae together, thereby immobilizing the fused region of the spine. For those with rare bone fractures, whether due to osteoporosis or trauma, a procedure known as vertobroplasty injects polymethylacrylate, a fancy word for a sort-of cement, to stabilize the spine and relieve pain. No matter the procedure, if surgery is required, discharge instructions will include a prescription for physical therapy as well as an examination of the factors that may have caused the problem. "Back surgery marks a big life change, and, while not always avoidable, it should spur the patient to take better care of his or her body," stresses Dr. Khoury. SUPPORTING THE SPINE Though some back conditions are unavoidable, there are ways to strengthen and protect the spine to help ward off future injuries. "As a physical therapist, I spend a lot of time with clients discussing the best ways to sit, stand, and sleep," says Hard. For those in sedentary jobs, opt for a standing work station, if possible. When sitting is unavoidable—like on long summer road trips—use lumbar support to help maintain the spine's shape. Roll up a thin towel about the thickness of your elbow, she suggests, then tuck it behind you, just above your tailbone. Also, stand and walk around as often as possible to stretch out the spine. Those who stand all day long need to pay attention to posture, as well, says Hard. "Remember when your mother said slouching isn't pretty? She was right. Holding your shoulders back not only looks better, it pulls your chest up and puts a natural curve in the back, automatically placing the spine in its best position." If your profession requires extensive standing, try regularly shifting your weight between feet. Another trick the therapist recommends: place a book on the floor and alternate putting the left and right foot on it to minimize pressure on your lumbosacral spine. Back your good posture up with a healthy diet that includes calcium (which helps build bones and strengthen muscles) and a regular fitness routine. "Be sure to include core and lower back exercises like planks and leg lifts; isometric strength training for the abs, back, hips, and glutes; and stretching," notes Dr. Khoury. Hard stresses that core exercises should not just work the abdominals; rather, they should strengthen the spine extensor muscles (those that are attached to the back of the spine) and oblique muscles, too. And to reduce your risk of falling, consider weight-bearing and balance exercises like tai chi and yoga. Finally, at the end of the day, enjoy a good night's sleep. That horizontal position gives your spine a reprieve from the constant pressures of our upright lives and recharges the body for tomorrow's gravity grudge match. THE 123 s OF CATCHING ZZZ s Gravity places constant pressure on our upright spine during waking hours, so sleep provides the back with much-needed relief. However, some positions are more restorative than others. To prevent waking with aching, you need to maintain a neutral position. Here, Hard gives tips for proper form: Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which isn't ideal as it forces the neck left or right. When sleeping on your side, place a pillow between the knees to align the spine. When snoozing on your back, rest your neck on a slightly contoured pillow and tuck another small cushion under the knees to keep them bent and reduce the hamstring pull on the lower back. Be sure to uncross your legs. Opt for a firm bed, which offers better spine support, over a soft mattress that you sink into. Michelle Hard We're shrinking! As we age, our spinal discs get thinner, meaning we get shorter. "The neck and lower back should curve in while the mid back curves out. That's when we are in our strongest position." —MICHELLE HARD

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