Back pain driving you crazy? Healthista spoke to chiropractor Dr Stefaan Vossen, Clinical Director at Core Clinics who identifies everyday activities making it worse and what you can do to help
People often relate to their backs, especially their spines, as being somewhat fragile, delicate and in need of protection.
They therefore worry about ‘hurting their back’ by doing simple things, especially if they’ve had back pain or injuries in the past or feel the beginnings of a back pain flare up.
The spine and its supporting structures are very robust and flexible, especially if you regularly work on strengthening and mobilising your back.
these types of events are usually a ‘straw breaking the camel’s back’ moment
More damage tends to be done by overprotecting your back by unnecessarily reducing activity out of fear, than by keeping active.
While people do sometimes experience back pain or their back ‘going out’ when doing something innocuous like picking a pen up off the floor, these types of events are usually a ‘straw breaking the camel’s back’ moment.
In other words, it isn’t picking up the pen that’s hurt your back, it’s everything you’ve done (and not done) leading up to that event.
So, what are some of the everyday activities and work-related behaviours that increase your risk of back injuries or pain problems? And what can you do about them?
Back Pain Problem #1 Inactivity
Not just lack of exercise but lack of movement during your day – like staying in any one position or posture too long or too often.
Even if you hit the gym a couple of times a week this won’t always be enough to compensate for sitting at your desk all day and slouching on the sofa all evening.
What can you do? Move more
This doesn’t mean you need to take up a fitness regime, (although there are many reasons why you should). Try to do at least some exercise each day – a short walk is fine and brightens the mood.
Weighted exercise is great for your back. It kills off stress and floods your brain with serotonin. It also protects you from osteoporosis, boosts testosterone levels and helps your immune system significantly.
When you are having to sit still for a long time, relieve the tension with some neck and shoulder stretches and change your position or the activity you are doing often.
Back Pain Problem #2 Over-repetition of the same activity
If you have a more physically active job or you’re on your feet for more of the day this is generally better for your back as well as your overall health.
However, repeating a similar physical task multiple times can lead to back pain due to repetitive strain injury.
What can you do? Shake up your routine
Do a workplace risk assessment or review your desk set up. If you’re employed, your employer should help you with this, but there are excellent resources available on the internet and on YouTube to help you.
If you can’t avoid repetitive activity (because it’s your job or a sport that you love playing) look at your posture and technique to see if they can be improved. A physio or chiropractor can help with this.
A good PT or sports therapist can help you
Take breaks and do something different. If you’re making lots of small repetitive movements for work (like typing or detailed work) incorporate large movements and deep stretches into your breaks.
If you are doing heavy work or exercise that really strains one part of your body, make sure you’re stretching and resting it too.
Also strengthen the other parts of your body to compensate and balance this out. A good PT or sports therapist can help you with this.
Pack Pain Problem #3 Significant changes in activity
Lots of people developed back pain during the pandemic because their routines changed so much.
Whether and where you’re working, the type of work you’re doing, and your personal routines and leisure activity can change significantly during periods of lifestyle or life-stage change (like pregnancy, menopause and andropause, periods of illness, or just changing your job).
These changes feed through to how you’re helping or hurting your back.
What can you do? Take time to adjust
If you want to significantly change your activity levels, you can do this, but don’t rush into it without a plan. That’s when injury occurs.
Your back needs to keep moving to keep strong and supple
Set realistic goals. The research clearly shows that if you introduce small changes and let them bed in, they will take root and flourish far more successfully than wholesale life changes. Try habit stacking too.
If your activity is reducing due to health concerns, pregnancy, or back pain, it’s almost always a bad idea to ‘rest’. Your back needs to keep moving to keep strong and supple. If you’re worried about hurting yourself, seek advice from an expert.
Back Pain Problem #4 Stress and your stress responses
Stress tends to show up in our bodies as pain sensitivity and tension – especially in the shoulders, neck, and upper back.
When stress becomes chronic it can affect your posture and the way you move, which can in turn result in back pain and other symptoms.
What can you do? Be stress savvy
Many people are very unaware of their stress levels and stress responses. Read up on stress and get better at recognising the signs. When you’re getting snappy, it’s time to take stock.
Build stress-reducing techniques into your day. Mindfulness, breathing techniques, massage, or just a chat with a friend over coffee can all help.
Build stress-reducing techniques into your day
Deal with your problems. Whether it’s a skill-gap, an injury, or a bad habit you’ve been telling yourself you need to deal with. Do it.
Seek help, expert help if possible, so that you get the best information and can take control of those things that are piling up in the background.
READ MORE: 5 back stretches to help relieve desk hunch
Back Pain Problem #5 Poor nutrition
Poor nutrition and inadequate hydration can affect your back just like the rest of your body. The joints and muscles in your back need to be hydrated and nourished, especially under stress or when injured.
What can you do? Feed your back (no seriously)
Too many starchy foods and refined carbs can cause an energy slump which may cause you to slump your shoulders, putting strain on your upper back. Try to choose higher protein meals, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drink at least a couple of litres of water a day. There’s nothing wrong with cups of tea or a couple of cups of coffee a day but try not to go over that and choose low or caffeine-free options once you hit the afternoon.
Watch your alcohol intake too – your concentration and sleep will thank you.
Vitamins: Vit D3 with K2 (4000 iu a day) and Magnesium Citrate (150mg a day) are beneficial for most people; deficiencies can show up in musculoskeletal pain, low energy, and sleep problems.
Back Pain Problem #6 Poor or insufficient sleep
You spend one third of your life in bed so your sleeping environment and sleep routine can have a significant effect on your back.
Educate yourself on sleep hygiene to benefit your back and your overall health. It’ll even help you live longer.
What can you do? Take sleep seriously
A supportive mattress; a cool, dark room; and comfortable temperature-regulating bedding are key for good sleep.
Orthopaedic pillows that support your neck and spinal posture are well worth the investment. If you wake up with back or neck pain, it’s time to change your sleep set up. An osteopath or chiropractor can advise you.
Try to ease down to sleep and get out of bed at the same time every day (including weekends) and aim for between six and eight hours of sleep.
Dr Stefaan Vossen, Clinical Director at Core Clinics
Get more tailored advice about back care at coreclinics.co.uk