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Spinal Health


Spinal Health

Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author:

Sadly, I’ve recently watched my mother go through her second spinal fusion. This time around she had a double operation that resulted in severe physical and mental trauma. Was it just luck of the draw? Or could she have done something earlier in her life to prevent such drastic surgery?

At the age of 42-years I’ve worked hard to ensure my spine is in great shape. But if I’d not made some serious changes to my life in 2003 then I’m convinced that I would be on the exact same path as my mother. I’d now like to share those simple changes that I made with you. I call these changes my “Seven Keys to Great Spinal Health.” These are as follows:


It’s important that you maintain a suitable weight for your frame because every extra kilogram you’re carrying equates to an extra eight kilograms of force going through your spine. That’s why I lost over 70kg — half my body weight — and reduced the force on my spine by over 580kg.


I’ve never smoked, but if you do then quitting is a good place to start to improve your spinal health. Apart from a whole host of diseases research has also linked smoking with accelerated disc degeneration.


I regularly perform yoga, Pilates and resistance training and it’s these core strengthening activities that help to stabilise and strengthen the spine.  If you’re overweight then you should also focus on non-impact or low-impact cardio activities like swimming, walking, water aerobics and cycling. However, regardless of your size it’s critical that you stretch properly at least once a day to maintain flexibility, whilst ensuring you don’t hyper-flex or over extend your spine. The ‘Egoscue Method’ is an excellent example of good stretching exercises.

Egoscue Method Stretching


Whilst core strength helps to build better posture you also need to be aware of how to take care of it. You can do this by ensuring that your work space is ergonomic. This means that you should sit up straight without slouching, bend your knees when lifting, and that you hold heavy loads close to your body’s centre of gravity. It’s also vital that you wear the right footwear, as a good posture starts from the ground up. So ditch those heels and get some orthotics.


There’s not a lot you can do about your genetic structure, but by being aware of any hereditary factors means that you have an opportunity to deal with them. I have hereditary lymphedema which means I retain fluid and weight easily. To combat this, I drink up to 4 litres of water and I stay active throughout each day. My mother suffers from severe osteoarthritis. Therefore to prevent its onset, I maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced high-vegetable diet, rich in trace elements and low in saturated fats and sugars. I also eat lots of raw ginger and take glucosamine and fish oil supplements.


Getting the right long term spinal care is critical. I use a fortnightly massage to help the muscles in my back relax, improving my range of motion. For acute pain treatment I see a physiotherapist, if needed, but it’s regular chiropractic work that’s proven vital. My chiropractor, Dr Tracy Kopp  says, “Regular chiropractic treatment is all about keeping the spine supple and preventing it from jamming up,” and I couldn’t agree more.


There’s no piece of furniture that exerts as much influence on your spine’s health as your bed. So it’s important to have the right mattress with the right support . But did you know that your sleeping position at night can compress your discs and can reduce your height by as much as 2 centimetres? So it’s also important that you maintain your spine’s ‘S’ curve alignment during sleep and the best way to do this is by sleeping on alternating sides, preferably with your knees slightly bent in a semi foetal position.

These “Seven Keys” may seem simple in themselves, but combined they form a powerful roadmap to maintaining great spinal health, reducing the future risk of spinal surgery and living a longer, fuller, more active life.

Sigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book Half The Woman I Was– How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market. Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

Simone Samuels – Australian Holistic Coach:

As someone who suffers from bulging discs in my lower spine, I have a lot to say about this subject. I’ve received lots of advice over the years from both regular and holistic medical practitioners, and a lot of it has been contradictory. I’ve tried everything, acupuncture, osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists, Pilates and yoga. It is difficult to say whether one modality has been particularly helpful, or not, and I daresay that any reprieve from painful episodes has probably not been helped by any particular treatment.

What I find works for me in keeping a strong, healthy and pain-free back, is regular movement, not sitting for too much every day and maintaining a healthy diet. When I sit for too long for days on end, my back gets stiff. If I don’t so some form of exercise my back starts to ache. If I am out of my regular routine, then I find my spine is the first thing that starts to suffer.

My back-pain prevention toolkit involves the following:

1. Stretching every morning and every night. This consists of an easy five minute sequence of some gentle side twists, the cobra pose and the child pose.

The Cobra Pose

2. Some form of cardio exercise every day. Cycling really works for me, more so than treadmills or ellipsis machines, which I find put strain on my lower back.

3. I also try to do yoga at least three times per week including at least one restorative yoga class.

4. I make sure I get up from my desk chair throughout the day and do some gentle forward bends and seated twists, especially if I feel the need. I like using a fit ball as my desk chair when it is possible.

5. If I do experience any pain in my back, the worst thing I can do is to not do any exercise. I will always try and keep doing my stretching and moving, even when it is sore, as it actually makes it feel better by doing so.

I feel like so many of the spinal problems that people experience can be prevented by just taking care of the spine. It is such a vital part of our body to keep in-check. Your spine supports you in so many ways, and it can be so distracting when it is in pain. Prevention is always easier than the cure, especially when it comes to backs, which when needing to be fixed, can be debilitating.

Simone Samuels is an Australian holistic health coach raw food chef. She also comes under the titles of yogini, scuba diver, photographer, fitness lover, writer, world traveller and life adventurer. She believes that being happy and well is a state that everyone deserves to feel, every day. Simone runs the practice Wellness Warung so she can help busy women to reclaim their wellbeing and empower them to feel happy and hot! Simone received her training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program. During her training, she studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and wellness experts. She also holds a Master of  Education, and worked as a teacher, trainer and tutor for over a decade before transferring her skills to the role as health coach.

Sputnik – Chief Swashbukler, The Swashbucklers Club (I’m also an ultra runner and author if that is still too weird):

Spines Aren’t Sexy.

Six packs are sexy. ‘Guns’ are sexy. Tight ‘buns’ are sexy. Which explains why people are more than happy to put time, effort, energy and their finances into doing ‘beach weights’. Yep, that’s the term for when people do weights to look good on the beach. Not you, of course, but you know, those other people. But here’s the thing, those muscles aren’t the only important parts of your body that help hold it all together and in reality, they aren’t going to be much help at all if something like your spine is not in good nick.

So many people are more than happy to do personal training, attack classes, cross fit, weights, you name it. All in the name of looking good. But spending money on going to the chiropractor (chiro) or physiotherapist (physio) to keep your body moving and functioning properly is pretty much a ‘grudge purchase’. Actually, that’s not quite true. When people are injured, stooped over in pain with a bad back, they’re just about bashing the door down with the top of their head to get in. And while the old adage may not be a very fashionable thing to say, when it comes to your spine, prevention really is better than a cure.

If you’ve got a sore leg or arm or other bit or piece, you can usually still function at some level and life goes on. But if your spine’s stuffed, you’re stuffed. Simple as that really. So it makes a fair bit of sense to look after it.

As usual, I’m not here to tell you what kind of spine care will work best for you. Personally, I’m more of a physio person than a chiro person, but what I can tell you is that having a healthy spine really does come in pretty handy. I can also tell you that there are plenty of different kinds of physios and chiros out there. Those that crack, those that don’t. Those that do this, those that do that. So if you go to a physio and don’t think it works for you, don’t necessarily write-off the entire profession. Same with Chiros. And hairdressers, but that’s another story.

To me, given the ridiculously wide range of treatment styles different physios and chiros offer, it’s difficult for me to understand how they can even be called the same thing. And of course, there are probably many other kinds of things you can do to keep your spine smiling. Yoga, Pilates, acupuncture, sports massage and who knows what else.

You’ll have more than enough friends who swear by the person they see, but like music, food, partners and so many other things in life, it often comes down to personal preference. I may be on repeat here, but there’s no ‘one size fits all’ for every person or condition. By all means ask for the opinions and recommendations of others.  I, for one, can certainly tell you where NOT to go, as I’ve been to at least one very dodgy, money hungry, hack chiro that I wouldn’t even send my worst enemy to see. But, at the end of the day, it’ll just be a matter of what works for you.

So ask around, try a few things and be kind to your spine.

Have an Out of this World Day!

Since taking up running in 2010, Sputnik has completed numerous road marathons including the New York Marathon as well as a number of ultra trail runs including the Tarawera 100km ultra in Rotorua, NZ and the brutal North Face 100 – a 100km trail race through the Blue Mountains in NSW. His practical, useful and usually at least vaguely entertaining advice and ability to make stupid, difficult and stupidly difficult acts of exercise look a tiny bit enjoyable and possibly even fun has already helped numerous people get off their arses. His mission is to do that a bit more. As testament to his Swashbuckling spirit he has eaten fried tarantulas in Cambodia, climbed active volcanos in Indonesia and been married. In November 2012 Sputnik was part of the first group to ever race the 200+km Manaslu Mountain Trail in Nepal and finished in a blaze of glory several days before everyone else – when he was helivac’d off the mountain half way through after almost dying. He’s fine now though and stands by his motto thatOrdinary is the enemy and must be avoided at all costs”.

Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer:

Today’s modern society provides many sophisticated and advanced technology that makes our life so much easier, faster and efficient than our ancestors, yet it is this same technology that is responsible for most of our chronic illnesses and injury. In relation to spinal health the most notable injuries are associated with lower back neck pain, which are the most prevalent.

It is ironic that with all of the back pain specialists and equipment available today, such as personal trainers, specially designed chairs, pillows and beds, as well as scientific diagnostic assessments such as MRI and CT Scans that we have still rapidly declined in our spinal health instead of improved. When we compare our lives to those of previous generations, who carried out tough manual labour and had no access to these sort of tools or methods, you would think they would have suffered far worse complaints, but instead they lived relatively pain free.

So what’s the difference?

People now have to go to a gym to do exercises to rehabilitate their back they hurt while they were doing the gardening. Just think, if this were the case 100 years ago you would have been in big trouble. You would not have been able to look after your family or maintain life at a liveable standard. Mowing your lawn by hand, washing your clothes by hand, chopping up your wood for your fireplace in the winter would have been impossible tasks for a person with back pain. You wouldn’t even be able to find much work, as almost all work back then was labour intensive. Even getting to work would have been hard without a car.

However, today the person with back pain has become common. This is because we live sedentary lifestyles compared to our ancestors. People used to be far more active. We used to spend less time sitting. This ensured that our spines remained strong and injury free.

There was no need to join a gym — which rarely existed anyway — as there was no need when you worked out all day anyway. So today we educate people to go to the gym and make sure they move more. This is great, but unfortunately many people who join gyms typically use machines where they sit down and lift heavy objects. This just makes the body regress and the function of the spine changes, as it no longer feels it needs to stabilize the body.

Ask yourself this question, “Where would I find someone 100 years ago performing leg press or leg extension actions? The answer is simple, they would be squatting in a field as they harvested food. They would be lunging as they picked fruit or performing a deadlift when they dug a hole for a fence post. These are all actions that the body is meant to perform and how it should move.
Now let’s add in other lifestyle factors from our day and age, such as poor quality food, massive amounts of stress and lack of sleep, and you now have an excellent recipe for creating back pain. Many of these factors are often overlooked, but if you look at back and neck pain rehabilitation programs, you will find that in almost every case at least one or all of these issues played a role in causing the pain in the first place.

Therefore, to fully rehabilitate or prevent back or neck pain you must look at all the factors. So if you want to be rid of back and neck pain in 2013 and improve your spinal health, then my recommendations are as follows:
1. Avoid sitting down too often.
2. Join a gym and learn how to squat, lunge, deadlift, twist, push and pull in a standing position. Not on machines.
3. Eat good quality meats, fruits and vegetables.
4. Reduce your stress.
5. Get to bed on time.
6. Walk every day.
7. Stretch tight muscles more often.
If you follow my recommendations, you will not be one of the 85 percent of the population that suffers from spinal pain in their life.

Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.

Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.

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