Staying active could keep this common problem at bay.
Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the UK, primarily because so many people have sedentary lifestyles that include hours hunched over a desk each day.
It is so common that even if you haven’t experienced back trouble, it’s still worth taking steps to ensure that remains the case. For help in that regard we enlisted Alex Clark, physiotherapist at orthopaedic support specialist Neo G, for his advice.
How common is back pain?
Back pain is one of the most common causes of long-term sickness in the UK, with 80% of people expected to experience lower back pain at some stage of their lives.
What kind of pain do people usually suffer from?
Back pain can either manifest as an acute episode or chronic pain. Most causes of back pain are due to an acute strain of a muscle, ligament or pain from the facet joints in the spine [the ones that allow you to twist and bend]. Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent these types of injuries from developing.
What are good ways to prevent back pain?
More of us than ever before are living sedentary lifestyles and spending large portions of the day sitting at a desk, so perfecting your posture from the outset is going to have a big effect on your likelihood of developing back problems.
Review your desk space and office chair first and foremost. Set up your keyboard to be in front of you when you are typing and leave a gap of around 10-15cm between the front of the desk and your keyboard. If there is not enough space between the desk edge and your keyboard then extra pressure can be put on joints and back muscles, which can lead to problems over time.
When it comes to your seated position, try not to slouch because this will increase tension in your muscles and lead to pain. Sit up straight by imagining a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your head, pulling your stomach in and drawing your shoulders back at the same time. Getting into the habit of sitting this way might feel strange at first but it will help prevent problems in the long run.
Does exercise increase or reduce the risk of back pain?
Rest and recovery used to be the usual advice when it came to treating back pain, but these days it’s much more advisable to keep active – prolonged periods of rest actually make pain worse. This is because exercise stretches and strengthens the back muscles, making it less likely that you’ll have flare-ups of pain. Try low-intensity activities such as swimming, walking, yoga and Pilates.
What can you do to prevent and treat back pain yourself?
Alongside regular exercise, strengthening the muscles in your back can be beneficial in preventing problems from developing. Try adding 15 minutes of stretching to your daily routine, using exercises such as a knee-to-chest stretch, a bridge hold and the cat/cow yoga pose to develop back strength.
Back pain can also originate from a weak core, so exercises that strengthen your abdominal muscles will also help prevent back problems. Researchers in Brazil found that after cyclists with lower back pain completed a core-strengthening programme, 44% reported less pain afterwards, so try building planks and other abs exercises into your routine.
If you need to treat back pain, heating pads can help reduce muscle and joint pain or stiffness by improving the blood flow and circulation to the back. Back supports can support and stabilise an injured, weak or arthritic back during sports or other activities.
What symptoms indicate that your back pain is serious enough to see a doctor?
Always see a professional if the pain doesn’t improve after a few weeks or if it’s preventing you from doing your day-to-day activities. The best option is always to see a GP or chartered physiotherapist, who will be able to tailor a treatment plan to you.
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Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network.