What the hell is Spinal Hygiene and why is it important? Well if you aspire to be able to surf until your an old man or woman, living a quality life, free from physical limitations, then read on… Even if surfing is not your thing, doesn’t having the luxury to choose for yourself sound desirable? Exactly, read on!
We wake up every morning and brush our teeth, insuring that we keep those pearly whites nice and healthy. We call this oral hygiene. We have adopted this practice for our teeth, but my question to you is why haven’t we done this for our spine? Is it because it’s out of sight, out of mind? Possibly. However, why shouldn’t this also be a priority if our spine is the protection to our spinal cord, the conduction highway that enables sensory and motor capabilities of our body.
When we provide the same care for our spine, we call this spinal hygiene. We do this by taking our spine through its full ranges of motions, moving metabolic waste products out of the hydrated discs within our spine, while bringing fresh nutrients into it. Picture wringing out a sponge under water. This is known as the “imbibition”, the act pumping nutrients into the intervertebral discs through movement of the spine. It is important to do this because this is the only way we can keep the intervertebral discs healthy and plump, supporting the structure of our spine. These are the shock absorbers that are positioned between each of your vertebrae within your spine. We have 23 in total. Failure to keep these intervertebral discs healthy can lead to degenerative disc disease, which will impair the biomechanics of your spine and over all movement. Say goodbye to surfing and moving like you used to. This is why there is a saying that movement is life, and life is movement. Without this movement, these vary components of your body will not receive the nutrients they require, which lead to their compromised health.
Now if we want to surf well, move well, and age well, these ranges of motion are essential to have. Thats WHY spinal hygiene is so important because through this activity we are actively training these ranges of motion, while also allowing our nervous system to be able to control our body as we move throughout these ranges. Lack of nervous system control during movement equal a high risk of injury. As we train our nervous system to integrate control within these movements, we are also strengthening our ligaments and tendons to be able to support these movements. This is crucial because if the soft tissue “tethers” that hold your boney structure together exceed their capacity to hold, they will fail and result in injury.
If we want to be able to draw deep bottom turns off the bottom of the wave and project up into the lip to give it a good smack, spinal mobility and control are essential. This is exactly what is trained through daily spinal hygiene training. Dr. Tim Brown, Co-director of the World Surf League, likes to say, “you are what you eat, think, and do.” In those regards, if you train to stay mobile and strong, you will have that in your daily life, which will translate over to your surfing. To see the best results, this needs to be done on a daily basis, just like brushing your teeth.
I’ve done it for 100 days straight. I stand by the effects this routine had on me. During that time of the 100 day challenge, I played around with when I would do my spinal hygiene during the day. I tried it in the morning, before bed, before surfing, after surfing, before a workout, after my commute, even in the shower. I did this all over the place (check my Instagram stories under Spinal Hygiene) and got many weird looks but I never minded cause I knew I was investing in my health. What I came to find from this experience was that spinal hygiene was a great way to tune into your body, priming your system for whatever you were going to tackle. It is great for warm ups and awesome for post surf session aches.
If you think about it, the spine is the sole support structure of your body. It is meant to stay stable, while also remaining flexible to move and create power. Failure to properly prime your spine to carry load or generate power will lead to decreased performance and increase susceptibility for injury. Think about the mechanics of paddling for a wave; your spine isn’t fixate while you spin your arms. Try it if you don’t believe me. Your spine is actually rotating at the thoracic region, allowing you humerus to stay in the scapular plane as you take a stroke. This prevents the glenohumeral joint from being over stressed, with the humerus grinding against the glenoid of the scapula, while also preventing compensatory stress of the rotator cuff muscles. If thoracic rotation is so essential for proper paddling mechanics, don’t you think that the thoracic spine will be able to do its job better if it was primed up before you hit the water, rather than hopping in cold? Get ready to catch plenty waves brah.
Another one of my favorite times to sprinkle spinal hygiene into my life is when I experience those post surf session aches. You know how you feel after those 3-4 hour marathon sessions when the swell is pumping. You feel stiff and rigid. By implementing spinal hygiene into your recovery though, you can destress your spine via imbibition, allowing fresh nutrients to enter the discs and flushing the waste out with every movement. This will facilitate the healing process and accelerate it so that you can get back out in the water sooner, and feeling stronger.
At the end of the day, spinal hygiene is a versatile tool that can benefit anyone as long as it is done habitually and routinely. As a future chiropractor, I want to empower everyone I come in contact with to know how to listen to their bodies and know how to give it what it needs. Motion is one of those life essentials, which is why active recovery (light movements that bring fresh nutrients to tissue) is held superior to passive recovery (rest). I challenge you to experiment with this routine and try it for 30 days straight. I look forward to hearing about your experiences. Catch you out in the water!
P.S. Here is an exert from one of my mentor’s textbooks that highlight the importance of motion of the spine. Enjoy.
The discs of the vertebral column are for allowing flexibility of the spinal column so the head and eyes can interact with the environment. This flexibility its essential to vascular flow in the capillaries of the spinal cord. The bending, twisting, and turning an individual does is important for the nutrient and oxygen delivery to the axons and neurons of the central nervous system. This motion is also essential to the health of the discs and ligaments of the vertebral column. They also require motion for nutrient and oxygen exchange. Studies show forced immobility initiate degenerative changes of the joint tissues. The fibryocytes that maintain the tissue are starved with stasis. The flexibility they exhibit is necessary for their health as well as that of the nervous tissue.
– Dr. William J. Ruch’s Atlas of commons subluxations of the human spine and pelvis. Chapter 1, Motion of the Vertebral Column