A – Alignment – When the joints of our spine and extremities are in alignment, they are healthier and we feel better!
B – Balance – Joint alignment leads to better muscle balance. Cervical spine joints in the upper neck have many proprioceptors that help with the body’s ability to maintain balance.
C – Chin Retractions – An easy exercise to improve or restore the “lordotic” curve of the neck (see Tech Neck). Imagine there is a balloon on a string pulling your head up. Then tuck your chin in, bringing your ears in line with shoulders & hold this position for 10-15 seconds.
D – Doorway Stretches – The rounded shoulder remedy! Tight pec major & minor muscles pull the shoulder forward. Find an open doorway and place your forearm along the frame, fingers pointing up. For pec major, your elbow should be bent 90 degrees. For pec minor, raise your elbow up the doorframe so that it’s bent to 45 degrees. Once in place, take a step forward with either foot into a lunge position, bending the knee just enough to feel a good stretch in the front of the shoulder. Hold for about 15 seconds and repeat on the other side.
E – Extension – Most modern humans need more extension throughout their spines to offset the hours, days and years we are sitting or looking down at a phone, computer or short person. The positions involve spine flexion. Like with downward dog, we need upward dog to balance.
F – Function over Fashion – Yes, those shoes are hot and that shoulder bag is amazing, but you may not feel so great after using them. Aside from very special occasions, keep function, comfort and alignment in mind when choosing clothing and accessories.
G – Glutes –Glute (butt muscle) strength is vital for preventing lower back pain. Weak glutes (often from too much sitting) make the lumbar muscles work much harder and lead to strains. Happy squatting!
H – Hip flexors – The other side (literally) of too much sitting is tight hip flexors (aka Psoas muscle). When this muscle gets tight, it can pull on the lumbar spine and cause low back tightness and/or pain. The yoga “warrior poses” & “crescent pose” are great stretches for this.
I – Injuries / Innate Intelligence – These 2 “I” words go hand-in-hand. Injuries are misfortunate, but they happen. Luckily, our bodies are run by an innate intelligence that allows it to self-regulate & heal. Sometimes we need to help our body’s natural ability by removing interferences such as inflammatory foods, adhesions/scar tissue, structural misalignments and poor posture habits.
J – Joints – The ability to move hinges on our joints! What keeps a joint healthy is movement in its full range of motion. Spinal joints are called "synovial joints" because they are surrounded by a capsule of synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint & contains nutrients for the bone & disc. Since everything in the body needs to be recycled & replenished, joint movement pumps old fluid out & new fluid in. When a joint gets "stiff" or "restricted," it's not getting the nutrients needed to stay healthy & can degenerate.
K – Kids – Alignment issues often begin in childhood due to heavy backpacks, falls/injuries, excessive phone/computer use and even a traumatic birth. It is best to address these structural imbalances when young so they don’t become an ingrained pattern taken into adulthood.
L – Lower Cross Syndrome - This is a postural “syndrome” that often results from too much sitting. It presents as a pelvis with “anterior tilt.” This means the glutes and abdominal muscles get weak and the hip flexors and lumbar erector muscles get tight. A focused stretching and strengthening routine can reverse this.
M – Magnesium – Sometimes no matter how much you stretch or massage, the muscles remain tight! Magnesium deficiency is very common, and it is a vital mineral for muscle relaxation (among other things). You can get Mg+ from vegetables, nuts and seafood, but for a therapeutic dose, it’s good to supplement. Make sure it’s a high-quality, absorbable product, such as “ReMag” by RnA ReSet. Avoid Mg+ carbonate.
N – Nervous System – This body system controls and regulates most body functions, and the core of it resides within the spinal column. Proper spinal alignment and movement helps ensure the nervous system is communicating optimally throughout the body.
O – Oxygen – We get this most vital nutrient without thinking, but things like poor posture and breathing habits can reduce how much oxygen we take in. To optimize oxygenation, keep your shoulders back and focus on filling your belly first with air, before your chest. You can also try exhaling as much as possible, which leads to a fuller inhale.
P – Planks – The ultimate multitasking exercise, planks strengthen your core, shoulders, neck and back. They can be performed on your hands or elbows, keeping your back straight as a board. Keeping your chin tucked, try to build the time you can hold this position.
Q – Quietude – Mental/emotional alignment is just as important as physical. In our busy, modern world full of stimulation, it’s important to take some time for peace & quiet. This could be a meditation practice, yoga, reading or simply a walk in nature.
R – Routine – Anything that’s important needs to be made routine. Think of teeth brushing. So without overwhelming yourself, make a list of the top 3-5 things that can help your alignment and figure out a time they can regularly fit into your schedule. The morning is often the best time to do this, and you’ll likely feel better throughout the day.
S – Spinal Hygiene – Back to the teeth brushing analogy, hygiene for the spine is just as important, if not more! After all, you can’t get a new spine. I’ve often thought, if the spine were on our face, we’d take much better care of it. Spinal hygiene includes exercises to warm up & move the spine and surrounding muscles as well as periodic check-ups with a chiropractor to ensure alignment. Just like with the dentist, when spinal hygiene is routinely performed, you should not need to see a chiropractor as often. Check out this video for easy spinal hygiene exercises: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVPKbc7ud7I
T – Tech Neck - "Tech Neck" is used to describe the effects of all the technology we use on our posture. Because our "tech toys" are usually in front of us & below eye level, we’re often looking down & reaching in front of us for a large part of the day. This causes the curve in the neck to straighten or reverse and literally makes the head heavier. See: https://www.silveraligning.com/blog/tech-neck for a full explanation.
U – Upper Cross Syndrome – Due to the same activities that cause “Tech neck,” this muscle imbalance presents as tight upper trapezius, levator scapula, suboccipital & pectoralis muscles, and weakened deep neck flexors, rhomboids and serratus anterior. This results in forward head carriage & rounded shoulders.
V – Vertebrae – An adult spine consists of 24 vertebrae that must stack on one another, like puzzle pieces. Since each bone has two "facets" to connect to its neighbors' facets, there are 48 joints in total that must line up. Alignment of this structure ensures that our spinal cord & all of the nerves that come off it have a clear, open pathway to get where they need to go.
W – Water / Warm-up – Like the earth, our body should be around 75% water. It’s recommended we drink half our body weight in ounces daily to achieve this. Muscle dehydration leads to tension and stiffness (think beef jerky). Warming up muscles before stretching is also very important to avoid injuries, so move around for at least 20 minutes in the morning before your stretching routine.
X – X-ray – Often you have to look under the surface to really know what’s going on “under the hood.” At some point as an adult, it’s a good idea to get a set of spine x-rays to see what your structure looks like.
Y – Yoga – The ultimate full body stretching and strengthening approach, yoga is an excellent practice to align the body, mind and soul.
Z – Zzz’s – Last, but certainly not least, 7-8 hours of quality sleep is essential for optimal body function and healing. It’s important to also consider alignment, when positioning yourself to sleep. One of the most common reasons patients report pain returning is “I slept in a weird position.” The most ergonomic position to sleep in is either on your back or on your side. For back sleeping, I recommend a pillow under the knees and a very thin pillow (or no pillow!) under the head. For side sleepers, you want to make sure your pillow comfortably fills the space between your head & shoulder, ensuring your neck is in a neutral position and not kinked to one side all night. A pillow between the knees can help the pelvis & hips stay aligned.