Lots of body systems work together to enable to seemingly simple act of walking, but your spine is what allows your body to be in a stable, upright position. Just as a strong spine and good posture are essential to healthy mobility, a painful spine can eliminate it.
Mobility is more than just your ability to walk. Mobility is your independence. By recognizing the role your spine plays in your mobility’s health, you are protecting your long-term quality of life.
Mobility is your ability to move comfortably. It’s not just about how well you can participate in exercise and physical activity—it’s also about how easily you perform simple daily tasks, like bathing, running errands, and cooking dinner. You might not realize it, but your body moves a lot during the day—it’s easy to take for granted.
As you age, your mobility may decline, but aging alone doesn’t eliminate your mobility. Mobility requires strength, balance, stamina, and coordination—all things you can condition and improve to keep you moving throughout your whole life.
How Spine Problems Hurt Mobility
Numerous spinal conditions can make walking difficult or extremely painful. If you have chronic back pain or nerve-related spine pain (such as sciatica), you may stop engaging in activities you once loved because they feel too hard on your body. You might stop going out with friends or family because you’re in too much pain. You may start adjusting how you do certain things, like showering, to make them easier.
Some painful spinal problems that reduce mobility tend to appear with age, such as spondylosis and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a particularly big threat to mobility because it increases your spinal fracture risk.
You may notice a temporary decline in mobility if you’ve undergone a significant treatment for back pain, such as spine surgery. Your surgeon may recommend that you do not lift heavy objects or engage in strenuous activity during your recovery period. It’s essential that you follow your surgeon’s postoperative instructions, even if you’re itching to get back to your favorite activities. Once you’re fully recovered, your surgeon will show you how to safely recondition yourself and get back on your feet.
Beyond Walking: Mobility’s Multi-Faceted Effects on Health
The decline of your mobility sets off a domino effect of issues that affect your physical, mental, and emotional health.
What might start off as a slower-than-usual walk can spiral into depression and a loss of independence.
Mobility limitations mean less exercising, which causes weight gain. Extra weight can lead to other health issues, including back pain. Gaining weight coupled with a decline in movement might make you shy away from social interaction. With all this said, it’s no wonder low mobility is associated with depression and reduced quality of life.
Eventually, mobility problems can become so severe that you are no longer able to live safely on your own. The loss of independence is a very real consequence of mobility decline. But, fortunately, mobility loss can be prevented—and, in some cases, reversed.
Exercise and Good Posture: Two Keys to Mobility Protection
When you have back pain, you don’t want to exercise. But, the fact remains: Exercise is among the best things you can do for your long-term spine health and preservation of your mobility. Keeping your spine healthy will allow you to move comfortably well into your later years.
If you have spine pain and need help exercising safely, talk to your doctor about physical therapy. A physical therapist can assess your specific condition and craft exercises that both take your pain into account and address your pain.
There are so many great exercises for back pain—from core work to yoga to tai chi. Ultimately, though, what matters most is that you find an activity you love and engage in regularly.
When you’re exercising—and throughout your day—take the time to practice good posture. Good posture does more than keep your spine in healthy alignment—it helps prevent spinal injury. Proper posture supports the spinal muscles that keep you upright. Practice good posture now, and your spine will support you for years to come.
While everyone will experience some mobility loss as they age, people are made to walk their entire lives (barring any disease or disability that prevents it). Protecting your mobility takes care and conditioning, just like an exercise routine.
Dr. Benjamin Bjerke specializes in cervical (neck) and lumbar (low back) minimally invasive spine surgery. He trained with the combined Neurosurgery and Orthopedic Surgery Fellowship at Mayo Clinic and is a spine surgeon with BoulderCentre for Orthopedics.