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Spinal Gap

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Jan 14, 2013

If you breathe or suck in your core muscles during a Pilates workout and you do it wrong, you could potentially damage your back and aggravate existing pain. Experts agree that exercise in itself is good for you, but if you deteriorate your back during any strenuous exercise it could lose all of its flexibility.

Here’s how it works:
As we age, that singular stack of hollow, flexible bones we call the spine starts to thicken up. When these bones get too thick they start to pinch the spinal cord they were designed to protect. Pinch this cord too much, and you start losing your balance and begin to stumble or drop things.

In traditional spinal surgery, a surgeon would remove bones from your spine in order to relieve the pressure. However, without these bones, your spine cannot support itself. The surgeon has to attach a metal brace to ‘fuse’ the spine, which then stresses the next part of your spine where it is attached. Kiss away your sporting/dancing/Pilates days as you become very stiff.

This traditional method is called a laminectomy, and it makes Fort Lauderdale-based spinal surgeon Jeffrey Cantor wince. “It’s not acceptable to have your spine fused, if you can avoid it,” he says. “The goal is to get the function back to normal.”

What Dr. Cantor does instead is called a laminoplasty. Rather than remove bones and attach a metal brace, he adds bones—tiny ‘spacers’ that open the gap for the spinal cord. Once the spine heals, your flexibility returns.

Dr. Cantor calls his method ‘motion sparing’ surgery and he is one of the leading spine surgeons in the country who practices it.

“If you have a rotator cuff tear, and go to a shoulder specialist, it’s not acceptable to have it fused,” he says. “So why do we do this with the spine? I look for any opportunity to save function and flexibility.” And that means movement.

If you’re worried about your back, you should get an MRI to see if the bones in your spine are squeezing your spinal cord. “Just keep in mind”, says Dr. Cantor, “that it’s something you can’t feel. Your spinal cord doesn’t have any nerves that can sense pain. People that are experiencing backaches are experiencing damage on the outside of the spinal cord, like pinched nerves. The symptoms for spinal cord injury are usually severe headaches, loss of balance, and loss of motor skills.”

And don’t go running to the nearest laser spine clinic. “Laser spine surgery ‘cures’ backache by burning out the nerves that are sending the pain signals,” says Dr. Cantor. “Such surgery doesn’t really fix anything. You must cure the cause, and not the symptoms, it you want to stay young.”

Thus, it is vital to engage in the type of exercise that is appropriate for your body and with proper form if you are looking for optimal long term results. Think of your spinal cord as your own personal fiber optic cable; damage it and your days of exercising to stay trim and healthy may just be jeopardized.