One-in-five of us are likely to be troubled by back pain at some point in our lives.
From a niggling pain to debilitating injury, problems with the back have a wide variety of causes that often go hand-in-hand with the daily routine of modern life. The pain can be triggered by sitting badly, using a computer awkwardly or lifting incorrectly and is most common in the lower back.
Thankfully, there are a number of easy things you can do to ease the discomfort.
Ahead of Back Care Awareness Week on October 6-12, Ian Harding, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, from Spire The Glen Hospital Bristol talks us through some common causes of back pain and his top tips for keeping the condition at bay.
Five common causes of back pain and how to avoid them:
1. Learn how to lift: Lifting is one of the most common causes of back strain or injury. Make sure you follow correct procedures. At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully bending the back or fully bending the hips and knees. Avoid twisting by changing direction with your feet, not your back. When lowering, face towards the place you want to put the item and lower the load slowly bending your knees, never your back, and let your legs do the work.
2. Sit straight: Sitting in the wrong position or slouching can cause or aggravate back pain. Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders down and back, elbows relaxed at your sides. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair. Avoid crossing your legs.
3. Adjust your workplace: Computers are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to back or neck strain. To minimise the risk make sure your work station is set up properly. Your keyboard should be directly in front of you. A keyboard that is off-centre can cause bad posture. Your mouse should be close to your keyboard. You should be able to keep your wrist straight, shoulders relaxed and elbows by your side while using it. Place your phone close to you to avoid repetitive reaching.
4. Take a break: Driving can prove a real challenge for backs, especially if you drive for extended periods of time. Sit with your buttocks touching the back of the seat. Adjust the seat so that your leg is slightly bent when you press a pedal to the floor. Change the angle of the backrest so that you can easily reach the steering wheel with your arms bent, and if you feel your back is starting to hurt then take a break to stretch your legs.
5. Take care of yourself: smoking, being overweight and stress can all contribute to back pain. Smoking can cause tissue damage in the back, being overweight can put pressure on the spine and stress can cause the back muscles to become tense and painful. Leading a healthier lifestyle could really help resolve back problems of this kind.
Five things to consider if you already suffer from back pain:
1. Get moving: If you suffer with back pain, exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing, but it’s important to try to remain as active as possible as it will help with your recovery. Don’t try anything too strenuous – walking, swimming or yoga can do wonders. Bed rest and being inactive is not advised as it can actually hinder the healing process.
2. The big freeze: Generally back pain gets better within 12 weeks, though if you need to take painkillers then paracetamol or ibuprofen will help. Hot or cold compression packs may also help reduce the pain. You can buy compression packs from your pharmacy, but a bag of frozen vegetables and a hot water bottle will work just as well.
3. Know your symptoms: You should contact your GP if you’re worried about your back or struggling to cope with the pain. Contact a doctor immediately if your back pain is accompanied by fever, unexplained weight loss, pain elsewhere, swelling in your back or loss of bladder or bowel control.
4. Get comfy: a new mattress can make the world of difference to back pain sufferers. Choose one that is suited to your height, weight, age and sleeping position. Medium-firm mattresses often provide the most relief for sufferers. We spend a large portion of our lives asleep so a good quality mattress is worth investing in.
5. Go shopping: Treating yourself to a new handbag or briefcase with a shoulder strap can relieve certain types of back pain. Buy one with a wide, adjustable shoulder strap. The strap should rest on the opposite shoulder to the side carrying the weight so that it is distributed more evenly. Regularly de-clutter your bag from things you don’t need to lighten the load.