The Ultimate Spine Care Guide
SpineNation Table of Contents
Dealing with back or neck pain can be frustrating and erode your quality of life. You deserve to live your best life, no matter your spine troubles. This guide offers you strategies and ideas to become your best own advocate and enable you to take charge of your spine care.
SpineNation Disclaimer

Disclaimer:

The contents of this guide are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to diagnose any medical condition, replace the advice of a healthcare professional, or provide any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

EDUCATE YOURSELF

Educate Yourself

A good starting point is to become the smartest person in the room related to your particular spine challenges. Doctors know the human body, but you know your body. No one else can speak up for you like you can when it comes to pain and other symptoms.

Try to stick to research from reputable medical journals and sites when reading about your symptoms and conditions. Being a spine patient is stressful enough without reading alarmist or inaccurate information and bogus treatment options. SpineNation has an extensive catalog of well-researched content on back, neck, and spine conditions and prevention and treatment.

Our Director of Content, Chris Jones, collaborates with our team of writers and expert contributors to ensure that readers receive the best information possible about back and spine health. He has 19 years of experience in media and journalism, including being a 3-time Virginia Press Association award winner and a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

It can be overwhelming to keep track of all of the information, diagnoses, appointments, tests, and healthcare professionals you encounter in your spine health journey. For that reason, we suggest that you create a folder on your computer to store all related documents.

Organize your folder, including sub-folders such as below:
  • Conditions
  • Treatments
  • Experts
  • Studies/Tests

Carry a Hard-Copy of Your Medical Data Folder

The Medical Data folder should contain information that is readily available to share with various service providers. It consists of any records that may be relevant for current and future care teams.

If you use a fitness tracker such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit, you may be able to download health reports for 90-day increments to print off as well. Such reports provide data on your resting heart rate, average calorie burns, basal metabolic rate, sleep quality, and other pieces of data that paint a whole picture of health. These are just examples of information and storage.

You may think of more subfolders or reports to carry in your hard-copy data folder—the more organized, the better. Create a similar organization system for bookmarking websites in your preferred browser.

Hot Tip
Hot Tip

Pocket is a great free tool with a Chrome browser extension to make it easy to add sites and tag them on the fly.

Educate Yourself

Support Groups

One of the best places to learn and find support is from peers that have walked a mile in your shoes. Their experience is invaluable and can offer support that others can not. Sometimes on our worst days, the best thing we can do for our mental health is commiserate with others who know what it is like to live with chronic pain.

SpineNation has a growing list of support groups, including:
  • Arthritis Support
  • Artificial Disc Replacement
  • Chronic Pain Management Support
  • Degenerative Disc Disease Support
  • Herniated Disc and Discectomies Support
  • Medical Mysteries Support
  • Mental Health & Chronic Pain Support
  • Sciatica and Piriformis Support
  • Scoliosis Support
  • Spine Cord Stimulator for Pain Management Support, and
  • Spinal Fusion Surgery Support
SpineNation Support Groups

Members of SpineNation may also create support groups for conditions or issues that they are battling and aren't covered in the above list. Participation in support groups, like anything else on SpineNation, is FREE.

Educate Yourself

Care Team

SpineNation Care Team

Having a trusted and supportive care team is essential to survival with chronic pain and spine conditions. Unfortunately, building that team doesn't happen overnight. In most cases, you will need to "date" various specialists and providers to see if they are a good fit for you. Suppose they're not right for you for whatever reason.

Personality conflicts, medical gaslighting or accusations of exaggerating symptoms and drug-seeking, and a lack of compassionate care are all good reasons to "break up" with your doctor or specialist. Do it sooner rather than later so that you receive the respect and care we all deserve.

Finding the right care team is another reason to be involved in support groups, especially in your geographical area. You can ask others for recommendations on doctors and specialists and discover who you should avoid. You may also utilize the tools on SpineNation, like the Specialist Finder, ADR Surgeon Finder, and Ask Surgeons Questions portal.

Surgical Prevention Starts at Home

Prevention

It's not always possible to avoid surgery for spinal abnormalities or injuries. Still, there is a lack of education among the general public regarding preventing back and spine surgery whenever possible. For example, bulging discs may heal naturally with the right treatments and care, allowing patients to avoid invasive surgeries

Preventative therapies include physical therapy and aquatic physical therapy, an anti-inflammatory diet, and therapeutic massage, to name a few.

The following pages provide more detail on personal care and preventative actions.

Prevention

Posture

Bad posture doesn't just affect your physical spine health and body mechanics; it can also negatively impact your sleep. Not getting enough sleep can lead to decreased productivity, higher stress levels, and serious health problems.

Bad posture at work is a common culprit for adults working in professional offices or cubicles that are not ergonomic.

Merriam-Webster defines ergonomics as:

  • an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely— also called biotechnology, human engineering, human factors
  • the design characteristics of an object resulting especially from the application of the science of ergonomics

You may be surprised at the availability of ergonomic devices and furniture to maintain good posture at work.

Some examples include:

  • Ergonomic keyboards and mice
  • Wrist and arm pads and supports for use at your office desk
  • Ergonomic office chairs, and
  • Adjustable desks, like standing desks or specialty desks for use in bed or your favorite chair
Ergonomics

Tech Neck

Tech Neck

Smartphones are the fastest growing technology in the last 20 years. It's estimated that 95% of Americans own a smartphone of some kind. These devices have become an integral part of our daily lives—from checking work email and managing social media accounts to texting, gaming, and video chatting, with millennials being the most technology-dependent.

With the rapid rise of cell phones, excessive use may be leading to a new condition affecting the cervical spine, upper back, and shoulders of users. *'Tech neck'* is what doctors and chiropractors call this condition. Tech Neck is characterized by cell phone users sitting with their heads bent forward, shoulders slumped, staring at mobile devices.

Prolonged screen use can shorten the neck muscles and put excess pressure on the neck. Dr. Brian Su is a board-certified spine surgeon and medical director of spine surgery at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California. He states, "The head is like a 15-pound bowling ball sitting on a stick. Flexing the head forward [to use a device] increases that weight to 50 pounds. At a 45-degree angle, that weighted pressure on the cervical spine is five-fold."

How does Tech Neck Impact Spine Health?

With Tech Neck, you may experience:

  • Chronic neck pain, particularly in the shoulder and neck
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms
  • Spasms
  • Pain by the shoulder blades

To avoid Tech Neck, pay attention to your body mechanics and ergonomics when using smartphone devices, laptops, and desktop computers, as well as tablets and eReaders.

Spending a little bit of cash on ergonomic desks, chairs, and things like lap desks may save you a lot of pain and surgery in the long-run.

Learn more on how to prevent tech neck.

Tech Neck

Exercise

Exercise

As humans, we instinctively avoid pain. When experiencing chronic aches and pains in our back and neck, it is natural to avoid doing things that might exacerbate the problem. Spine patients often think that they can't exercise without causing more pain when the opposite may be true.

We briefly mentioned aquatic and traditional physical therapy earlier. These are both two great options for safely exercising and relieving, rather than exacerbating back pain. Hiring the right personal trainer will be highly beneficial, as well. Personal trainers are there to coach you on what exercises to perform and how to perform them safely.

Exercise

Personal trainers can help you achieve proper body mechanics while exercising. They will also guide you in creating an exercise program that will be most beneficial and least risky for you. Whenever possible, find a certified personal trainer who specializes in rehabilitative exercise and sports recovery training.

Suppose you have an active injury in your back or spine. In that case, you'll probably want to avoid intensive Bootcamp or CrossFit programs while you recover.

Personal Trainers

Nutrition

Nutrition

You might be sick of hearing that diet is the key to good health. Unfortunately, we can't avoid saying it: Diet is an integral part of managing chronic pain, too. Namely, anti-inflammatory diets and the avoidance of sugar. Yeah, we know, we're kill-joys. But if something as easily manageable as your diet can decrease your chronic pain significantly, do you really want to ignore it?

You may try researching the anti-inflammatory diet or consider following a vegan diet, at least in part. SpineNation staff member Kelly follows what she calls the "dumbed-down anti-inflammatory diet." No corn, gluten, beef, and minimal added sugar. She tries to control her sweet-tooth with dehydrated or dried fruits, fresh fruits like apples and bananas, or real-fruit popsicles. Banana ice-cream is also a thing, and it's not bad!

Mental Health & Self-Care

Mental Health & Self Care

Mental Health

As discussed in Pain and Depression: How are the two linked? major depression affects an estimated 17.3 million Americans each year. And according to the American Pain Foundation, approximately 65% of people reporting depression also complain of living with pain that affects their quality of life. If you live with chronic back and neck pain and feel helpless or hopeless, you are not alone.

Statistics like these are part of why SpineNation exists; we want to help educate, empower, and support our community members in maintaining the best quality of life possible. A diagnosis or diagnoses should not mean that your life has to end, and patients should have every opportunity to manage their physical and emotional health needs.

Mental Health & Self-Care

More from the article

Pain creates an emotional response within the body. When someone has chronic pain, that emotional response triggers a higher stress response. The person feels their outlook for getting relief diminishes with each failed treatment.

Among the challenges of living with chronic pain, the inability to enjoy regular activities, loss of function in the affected area, and dependency on others to meet basic needs add to feelings of hopelessness. Anxiety, depression, insomnia or hypersomnia, and anger are also prevalent in some people who struggle to manage pain and cope with a lifestyle change. These circumstances can lead to the development of a depressive disorder.

When a person with chronic pain becomes severely depressed, these are some of the external problems that can ensue:

We strongly encourage our community members to seek professional psychiatric care and therapy if they are struggling with depression and anxiety, in addition to their chronic pain. Some psychiatrists specialize in working with chronic pain patients, and some medications help treat depression and chronic pain.

Suppose you're concerned about going to a doctor's office during the COVID-19 pandemic. In that case, you have the option to seek tele-health therapy treatment.

Mental Health & Self-Care

Self-Care

The staff at SpineNation understand and empathize with the stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany chronic pain. Everyone has their favorite coping mechanisms, but you must find yours.

Self-care is not a luxury for the rich, and it's not just a buzzword. Self-care can be life-saving when we practice it often and schedule it into our days and weeks. As they say, you can't serve and save others if you don't put on your oxygen mask first. Think of self-care like it's your oxygen mask.

Self Care

Here Are Some Self-Care Activity Suggestions from Your Friends at SpineNation:

Avoid Information Overload

Senior Community Leader, Kelly Mendenhall, avoids information overload at the advice of her therapist. She can watch or read the news for up to 1 hour per day, but that's it—otherwise, her anxiety peaks. "Daily affirmations and guided journals help me a lot, too. They get me out of my head; when my thoughts pour out onto paper, they're not eating away at my insides anymore."

Take Care of Your Body

CEO and founder of SpineNation, Jay Resio, says that napping is a big piece of self-care. Jay says, "Napping. Ninety percent of the time, a nap is a rock-solid way for helping me reboot. Sitting in my hot tub in the morning also seems to be helping a lot."

Make Time to Unwind

Chris Jones, Director of Content at SpineNation, had this to say: "I walk, read, play classic Nintendo or Super Nintendo games on my emulator, or even do something non-creative like cleaning the kitchen or my car. Something that isn't work-focused."

Actively Cope with Stress - Don't Ignore It

Some days you may need a "mental health day," and that is ok! Sometimes doing nothing is doing something. Your productivity does not measure your worth!

Marian Resio, office mom and resident graphic and development genius, likes to cook, drink wine, and binge-watch series on streaming channels. "Meditation and yoga, listening to music, and walking every day seem to help keep my stress low(er)."

Here are some resources that may help you practice mindfulness and self-care:
Learn Self Care

Mental Health & Self-Care

Medications & Supplements

Choosing the right medications and supplements to manage your chronic pain is a very personal care choice. It would help if you talked with your doctor(s) about the risks and rewards of any prescription medication. With the opioid crisis being what it is, it is becoming harder for spine rehab and chronic pain patients to access controlled substances that provide relief.

More people turn to alternative medicines like CBD and THC for pain management, especially nerve pain and muscular issues. You'll want to investigate the legalities of sale and usage in your state. You may see a nutritionist to talk about supplements as well. Recommendations will vary depending on whether your pain is localized, like sciatica, or unbounded pain such as accompanies osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia.

In general, magnesium, fish oil, omega-3s, and Niacinamide can reduce inflammation throughout the body, including the spine, but especially for sciatica. Healthline's article, 6 Supplements That Fight Inflammation, is an excellent resource for a detailed explanation of common supplements and how they target and reduce inflammation.

Medications and Supplements
SpineNation Hot Tip
Hot Tip

Be sure to buy high-quality products and watch out for gluten and corn products in the ingredients list. Buy from reputable vitamin and supplement companies, rather than those in supermarket pharmacies, as these are sometimes low-quality, and in worst cases, counterfeit.

Gadgets & Gizmos

Gadgets and Gizmos

Mental health and self-care are great pieces of the whole wellness journey. Still, when you have physical pain, you need physical products to help address some of your issues and provide relief.

Here Are Some of SpineNation's Favorite Wellness Gadgets:

  • Foam Roller for muscle recovery

    This particular foam roller comes highly recommended from one of our partner experts. Foam rolling is great for muscle recovery after workouts or easing tension in muscles during the workday. Foam rolling decompresses and relaxes stiff muscles to provide immediate relief.

  • 4KOR Fitness Bands for resistance training

    4KOR Fitness exists to help the everyday athlete by providing the highest quality and most effective training tools at fair prices. These hip bands come highly recommended by one of our expert partners. From the website: "The 3" ultra-soft 4KOR Hip Band is the ultimate tool for hip and glute activation."

  • Percussion Massager for muscle recovery and therapeutic massage

    • Helps relieve muscle soreness and stiffness
    • Improves range of motion
    • Promotes circulation
    • Accelerates warmup and recovery

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We hope you have found this guide helpful and that it has given you some information you didn't know you needed. Hopefully, you found some actionable steps you can take to pursue your best quality of life as well! In case you feel overwhelmed and like you don't know where to start with all of this: fear not! Because now is the time when we tell you about our revolutionary program, SpineLife365.

SpineLife365 will feature on-demand, self-guided programs, challenges, and videos from fitness experts, physical therapists, nutritionists, spine doctors, and other related experts.

"Back and neck issues can severely impact our lives," says Jay Resio, founder and CEO of SpineNation. "It can be extremely frustrating and painful. It can become completely debilitating and destroy your ability to be productive daily. Our primary goal at SpineNation and with SpineLife365's wellness programs are to help as many people as possible live their best spine life."

Pre-launch signups are available now. The first 365 people to sign up receive a Forever Subscription for a one-time fee of only $99.

When SpineLife365 is released, the regular price for a yearly subscription will be $99. Subscribers will visit SpineNation.com to access SpineLife365 anytime, anywhere, via all digital devices with an internet connection.

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