Suffering with stiffness, aching, or sharp pangs up your spine? Physiotherapist Laura Harman gives her top tips on how to get rid of back pain
Back pain is one of the most common physical problems that most people will experience at some point. Whether it’s general stiffness, constant niggles or something more serious, for many people there is not one particular treatment that will work but a combination of small changes that can help eliminate pain.
It often takes a number of different approaches to find a solution, as always it is important to see your GP in the first instance if you suffer from constant or debilitating pain. Laura Harman of London’s Boost Physio gives her top seven tips on how to get rid of back pain – some of them may surprise you and better yet they could make all the difference.
1. Use your imagination
Poor posture can cause muscular imbalance which puts pressure on certain areas of the spine which will lead to pain/wear and tear in time. One great way to correct your posture is to imagine there is a helium balloon attached to the top of your head stretching you up tall to elongate the spine. This is not about walking around with a book on your head like a 1950s debutante.
Poor posture can cause muscular imbalance which puts pressure on certain areas of the spine
The idea is to keep the chest open so don’t allow your shoulders to round forwards, keep a neutral alignment of the lumbar spine/not too arched and not too flat. Our bodies are designed to have mild natural curves in the spine to create balance and shock absorption as we move. The problem starts when these curves increase which creates imbalance and pain, what we should have is a mild inward curve at the neck, an outward curve over the middle of the spine and inward curve at the bottom.
2. Experiment with new positions in bed
If neck pain is a real problem, make sure that the pillow is only supporting your head, which means keep your shoulders and neck off the pillow. If your shoulder and neck are on the pillow the joints on that side will get squashed and will stretch the joints on the opposite side, causing the neck to stiffen up. You may have to try different types of pillows till you get it right, there is no one type of pillow that works for everyone.
Another way to take the pressure off your back is to lie on your side with a pillow in-between your knees to keep your pelvis level.
A firmer bed rather than a softer bed will prevent stiffening up during the night. A bed that is too soft will mould the mattress round your body like a jelly mould, which means that your spine is not getting the support it needs.
3. Activate your core
Incorrect lifting and bending techniques can put harmful strain on the spine (particularly the intervertebral discs). Make sure you bend your hips and knees rather than your spine. If lifting, activate your core, don’t twist and carry the load close to your body. Pilates classes can help with your core and remedial Pilates lessons with a qualified physiotherapist can really help with back pain.
Incorrect lifting and bending techniques can put harmful strain on the spine
4. Mix up a gym workout with Pilates for a strong back
A strong back can reduce your risk of back pain. A lot of people will either do gym work or Pilates but this will not “fully” strengthening the spine, you need to do both to help alleviate pain.
Simply speaking, we have two sets of muscles in the body. Those that produce movement (global system) and those that provide support/stability (stabilising system). Both sets of muscles need to be strong in order to prevent back pain. Therefore, doing a combination of Pilates and general gym exercises to strengthen muscles such as your gluteal, abdominal and back muscles e.g. squats and lunges is advisable.
5. Ditch the flats
We’re always told that high heels will play havoc on your back and knees but wearing flats can also lead to back pain, especially if you a have a foot that is over-pronated (flat). If you wear very flat shoes such as ballet pumps, or flip flops, with no arch, your foot will roll inwards every time you walk which can transfer abnormal forces up to the knee, hip and lower back causing pain. Wearing a supportive shoe will keep your body in a good alignment which can help with back pain.
Wearing a supportive shoe will keep your body in a good alignment which can help with back pain
6. Standing desks
Sitting can increase the pressure on the discs in the lumbar spine, particularly if you are sitting in a slumped position. Try a standing desk to off-load your discs. Best advice – vary between the two as standing for prolonged periods can also put pressure on the facet joints in the spine.
Sitting can increase the pressure on the discs in the lumbar spine, particularly if you are sitting in a slumped position
7. Don’t stop moving
Try not to sit or stand for prolonged periods of time. As a general rule, you should aim to get up every 20-30mins, change positon/move around, stretch or just walking around your work space can make all the difference, taking the pressure off your spine.
Laura Harman is senior chartered Physiotherapist and clinical specialist at London’s Boost Phyiso. She says, ‘I like to use a combination of hands on techniques and Pilates principles to treat my patients. I strongly believe that restoration of normal movement and function is key to preventing injury and reoccurrence of pain.’