We’ve trawled through all the most up-to-date information to bring you 5 surprising things to try to ease or prevent back pain.
More than nine out of 10 people experience back pain or lower back pain at some point in their lives.¹ Even if this pain is short-lived, that doesn’t mean you should just put up with it – particularly as there is so much you can do to prevent or ease back pain.
Most of us know that eating a balanced diet and keeping active to maintain a healthy weight are great starting points to keep your back strong in order to reduce the risk of experiencing pain. But what about the more unexpected things you can do that could really help? Here we bring you 5 ways to think outside the box when it comes to caring for your back.
Don’t worry, none of them are too demanding, as small changes really can make a big difference.
1. Flex yourself strong
Strengthening your stomach muscles doesn’t just help you look good – it can also help to ease back pain. Your body has a complex system of muscles and ligaments that attach to the spine (back bone). The deep stomach and back muscles are key to this muscular network, and act like a corset to protect your back. When these core muscles are in poor condition, the spine is under additional stress, making back injury or pain more likely. Exercises to strengthen your core stomach and back muscles help provide a solid foundation to support your back when you’re moving around. Pilates exercises are focused on core strength and can be adapted to suit people with back problems.²
2. Sit up straight!
Who’d have guessed that when your mother said this to you, she was looking after your back? Not all back injuries are the result of being too active – with so many of us spending hours in front of a computer or steering wheel, a cramped posture can play havoc with our backs. If you spend a lot of time sitting, first make sure your desk is set up correctly, so you are sitting straight and squarely, looking straight ahead. Include frequent pauses to move and stretch. Try drinking lots of water to not only keep you hydrated, but to enforce regular breaks! Long distance drivers can also benefit from occasional stops for a brisk walk and stretch.³,⁴
3. Say yes to yoga
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that combines strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Regular yoga sessions have been shown to help ease lower back pain, improve flexibility and strength and help you to relax,⁵ so give your back a treat and take up yoga. You’ll soon realise the difference doing the Upward Facing Dog and Child’s Pose can make.
4. Travel light
Carrying an overstuffed handbag (is there any other kind?) or heavy backpack slung over one shoulder can force your spine into a rotated position and cause an asymmetrical posture. To maintain your balance, especially when walking, the muscles on one side of your back are working much harder than the other side, which puts you at greater risk of back pain and injury. Do you really need to carry all that stuff around with you? If not, leave it behind. Distributing weight evenly also helps to protect against back strain, so when you’re carrying a backpack, use both straps.⁶
Choose a bag that distributes weight more evenly as this puts less strain on the body, so something like a rucksack is always best.
5. And breathe…
Working hard, caring for family and everyday worries can leave you stressed. Add that to the frustration of back pain, and it’s not uncommon to feel tense. In turn, your pain may feel worse if you are angry, upset or worried, and you are less likely to want to stay active. Using positive thinking, and learning relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises can calm you and calm your pain. Staying active can also help your mood. Avoid the temptation to lounge around and use pain medication if required to allow you to keep moving.⁷
Who knew how a few simple steps, from taking up yoga to leaving some of the clutter out of your bag, can help you maintain a healthy, pain-free back?
¹ Global Pain Index Summary Report, market research conducted by Edelman Berland for GSK, 2016.
² My Virtual Medical Centre Pilates for back pain. Available from www.myvmc.com/lifestyles/pilates-for-back-pain (accessed 11 October 2016).
³ Healthdirect. Back pain prevention. Available from www.healthdirect.gov.au/back-pain-prevention/ (accessed 11 October 2016).
⁴ Sheffield Back Pain. At work. Available fromwww.sheffieldbackpain.com/back-pain/avoiding-back-pain/at-work (accessed 11 October 2016).
⁵ NHS Choices. A guide to yoga. Available from www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/yoga.aspx (accessed 11 October 2016).
⁶ Hardie R, Haskew R, Harris J et al. The effects of bag style on muscle activity of the trapezius, erector spinae and latissimus dorsi during walking in female university students. J Hum Kinet 2015;45:39–47.
⁷ NPS MedicineWise. Effective ways to help back pain. Available from www.nps.org.au/conditions/nervous-system-problems/pain/for-individuals/pain-conditions/low-back-pain/for-individuals/effective-ways-to-help-back-pain (accessed 11 October 2016).
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