7 Things to do to keep your back healthy
According to Clinical Sports Medicine, back pain is something that will affect up to 85% of the Western population at some point in their lives. The vast majority of the time the back pain you experience would be classified as “Mechanical low back pain”. This simply means that your back pain is due to the way you move or the positions you put your back in during the day causing too much stress on the structures of the back like the joints, discs or ligaments. Therefore, to fix your pain we first have to fix some of your poor habits that are causing you to put too much pressure on the ligaments, joints or disks of your back. Here are seven tips to help avoid or treat back pain.
- Take regular breaks from sitting.
One of the principle reasons people get back pain is that their back is kept in a rounded position for too long. When in a flexed or rounded position it causes excessive stress and strain to be put on the ligaments, joints and discs of the back. Here is an example, pull your finger back towards your wrist. After a few seconds in this position your finger starts to feel very uncomfortable. Why? Because you are straining the ligaments at your finger and the joint is at its limit of movement, which causes discomfort and pain.
It is the same at your back.
Keeping your back in such a rounded position will cause the ligaments to become strained and over worked. A recent study by Stuart McGill reported that office workers with back pain reported that their back pain got progressively worse throughout the day if they were sitting for 8 hours. However, there is good news from this study. Those workers with back pain who got up regularly (every hour or so) didn’t report back pain. Take away message; giving your back a break from the rounded position even for a few minutes every hour or so allows your back to nearly reset itself and can massively reduce the chance of back pain.
Action: Try to stand up regularly as you can (once every hour would be ideal) for a few minutes to give your back a break. Arch your back a few times or stretch your arms over head. This will allow you to take the pressure and strain off the passive structures (ligaments, joints and discs) of your back and will help to prevent the pain before it begins. Make sure you take the break before your back starts to ache. Get up regularly even if your back is not hurting. Do not wait for the horse to bolt before you close the door!
- What if I can’t stand or I drive a lot?
The main thing with sitting is that your back is in that rounded or flexed position we discussed. This puts too much pressure on the ligaments, joints or disks of your back. If you cannot avoid sitting for long periods then the best approach is to try prevent your back going into this position in the first place. If you can keep your back in a neutral position then none of the structures we talked about will be over worked or strained.
Action: Get a rolled up towel and put it in the small of your back when sitting in the car or at your desk. This should stop your back going into this rounded position. Try this for 2 weeks and you will see big improvements in your back pain.
- Switch the core muscles back on
A strange thing about the back is that once you suffer back pain the small core muscles that keep the back in a good position can switch off. The same is true with knee pain. The body perceives danger and so it gets the bigger muscles of the trunk to try keep everything stable. In the short term this might be ok but long term you need the core muscles switched on and keeping your spine in a good position. If the core muscles are not activated then again it means that the ligaments, joints and disks are doing too much work to keep your back in a good position, which can lead to excessive stress and strain. Studies by Paul Hodges and the Queensland Group in Australia have found that patients with low back pain who undertook 4 weeks of core training were 12 times less likely to sustain further back pain than those who did not do any rehabilitation or exercises. Twelve times less likely. This highlights how important it is to do some exercises to switch the core muscles back on if you have had back pain.
Two exercises I recommend are all 4’s leg lift and the side plank. For the all 4’s leg lift, start in an all 4’s position with your hands and knees on the ground. Draw your bellybutton up towards your back. Holding this position try to lift your leg back out in line with your body for 2 seconds. Make sure there is no movement of your trunk during the action. Repeat 10 times each side.
The second exercise is the side plank, which gets the core muscles on the side of the trunk (the obliques) switched back on. Start on your side with your elbow and knees on the ground. Lift your hips up in the air so that your shoulder hip and knee are all in a straight line and you are facing the wall. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
- Use Ice not heat
Use Ice (Not Heat) Ice is by far the best way to ease back pain. My tip, use ice whenever you’re feeling achy or painful, such as at the end of a very busy day. Apply an ice pack for 10 minutes or so, little but very often (every hour). And when to use heat – my tip would be to apply a hot water bottle on a morning when your back is likely to be feeling more stiff than painful. Again, 10 minutes should do it.
- Choose Sensible Footwear
Avoid bizarre choices of footwear include high heels, sandals, flip-fops and plimsole style trainers or shoes. Why bizzare? Because they’re all proven to ADD to your back pain. Wearing high heels will increase the pressure through your back by about 25 times. Reverse that, and it means if you wear a nice soft cushioned pair of shoes instead, your lower back would be experiencing 25 times less pressure and force placed upon it. Imagine how much relief you’d feel if you could take that type of stress of your lower back right now? But understand that it’s a cumulative effect. This pressure builds up from wearing the wrong footwear over a period of weeks and years and results in a weak and stiff back somewhere around the age of 40. All other shoes I mentioned are poor because there’s a lack of cushioning to absorb shock with these types. So your lower back has to take all of the impact every time your foot lands on the floor (not good for your knees and hips either). If you can absorb some of the shock by wearing nice soft, well fitted and cushioned shoes/trainers, then you could reduce your back pain by as much as 20-25
- Good sleeping habits
Sleep With A Pillow Between Your Knees
This might be difficult at first, but if you can persist, it lowers the amount of rotation/ twisting in your spine. Your lower back hates to be twisted. If you sleep on your side, try a pillow between your legs to keep your spine aligned and this will reduce tension at your lower back.
6b. Avoid Sleeping On Your Stomach There isn’t a more effective, faster route to self-inflicted damage to your spine/lower back. Avoid this position like the plague. Every part of your spine is twisted and in the wrong position and if you sleep like this, it’s no wonder you are suffering from back pain.
7. Get Physical With Physiotherapy
There isn’t a faster way to END back pain that by going to see a physio. Getting to see a hands-on specialist physio means you’re going to get very fast access to care that will soothe and relax those tight aching muscles, loosen and lubricate stiff, stuck and painful joints, and strengthen your body so that you can go back to doing the things that you love. You can often leave a good physio with concerns eased and physical pain reduced, inside 40-50 minutes. Combine all of the “tips” in this Special Report with a trip to see a hands on private physio, and you will see a dramatic drop in the back pain and stiffness you are currently suffering from. I
Simple habits can make a big difference, one way or the other. Doing these simple things can dramatically help your back pain. Good luck.
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