Back pain is common, but it’s not normal

Common injury

Our Osteopaths in Albury Wodonga see this all the time. In fact, back pain is the number one musculoskeletal complaint in the world.  It is the second most common reason for individuals to present to their GP.  It has been reported that up to 80% of the population will experience an episode of back pain at some stage in their life.  Unfortunately, with all of the advances in modern medicine, the amount of people suffering remains unchanged.  

At Sports & Spinal Albury Wodonga we see clients every day suffering from back pain. Some have an acute episode that may be only a few hours or days old, whilst other have long term back pain that has been present for many, many years. Almost always this limits the person from doing what they want to do, whether that be work or play.  

No presentation is the same, which is why a visiting a highly skilled therapist is THE BEST way to combat back pain. However, keeping this in mind, there are some common bits of advice we are often giving our clients.

1. Poor sitting posture can be a factor

Slouching is bad for you….RIGHT? Well not exactly. So we can slouch? Of course we can…..but just make sure you don’t stay there for too long. Why? Well biomechanically the upright posture is easier on your body.  Try this for me.  Pick up a 5kg weight and hold it next to your body. Not too hard really is it. Now full extend your arm straight out in front of you and hold that 5kg weight. It gets heavy very quickly.  The same thing happens with your posture, when you keep your head stacked on top of your shoulders, your neck and upper back muscles don’t have to work as hard. So it is ok to slouch, tissues need loading…..but not too much.

Looking at your work station ergonomics will help.  Poor ergonomics make it harder for you to maintain better postures.  A supportive chair and an optimal positioning of things like the screen, mouse and keyboard will go a long way to aiding with better posture.  However even the very best sitting posture will cause repetitive stress over time, so having multiple variations of workstation is really the best.  It is why sit-stand desks have become so popular.  The ability to change between sitting and standing throughout the day seems to be the best way to beat the stress of poor posture.

The number one principle of posture is that “your best posture is always your next posture”.  So get moving!  Make sure you change posture at least every 30 minutes, whether that be going to get a drink, visiting the toilet, going to talk to someone rather than email them, etc. Every bit counts.

2. Get adequate sleep

Sleep has been shown to have amazing restorative powers. A study by Milewski, J, et al (2014) found that optimal amounts of sleep may help protect an individual from injury.  “Athletes who slept for less than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to have an injury compared with athletes who slept more than 8 hours”.

Sleeping posture is thought to have an influence on our pain and whilst changing our habits can be hard, there are some tricks that can help relieve the stress on your body.  Side sleepers can benefit from placing a pillow between their knees, whilst back sleepers often find putting a pillow underneath their legs can aid in reduction of their pain.  

Having the correct pillow for you to rest your head on is also vitally important. An inadequate pillow can lead to your head and neck spending all night in an elongated position, possibly causing undue stress on the muscles, joints and ligaments of those areas and making sleep difficult.  The one thing that is commonly glossed over if you are waking up sore is the age and quality of their mattress.  Mattresses will degrade over time and lose their ability to support your body.  Whilst this is an expensive purchase in one’s life, remember that you spend a third of your life in it so it’s quite an important investment in your health.

3. Lifting techniques are important

Remember that first time you lifted something poorly and thought “what are these people on about avoiding poor lifting techniques. That did not hurt one bit”.  This is most likely true….BUT a poor lifting technique will increase the stress and load on the muscles, joint and ligaments in your back.  Doing this repetitively over a period of time will increase the likelihood of injury. So make sure you understand and adopt a good lifting technique because adequate positioning, strength and flexibility may help reduce the risk of injury.

4. Exercise regularly

Maintaining good physical conditioning is important.  Backs can be predisposed to injury by a lack of activity and a sudden increase in activity.  Exercise is considered one of the most important ways to maintain back health and has been shown to be one of the best ways to reduce long term back pain.  Our sedentary lifestyles cause our muscles to weaken and thus this decrease in strength means our body struggles to tolerate the stress and strain of everyday life.  Physical activity provides the stimulus required to counteract our sedentary lifestyles, helping makes us not only stronger but has been shown to have a positive effect on our mental state.

5. Strengthen your body

Strengthening your body will help aid your body to cope with the everyday stresses placed on it from work or play.  However, it is important that these exercises are specific to you and your individual deficiencies.  A skilled Osteopath can diagnose these and then prescribe exercises accordingly.  

Studies have shown that any form of strengthening exercise is beneficial in reducing the instance of back pain long term. Pilates, yoga and gym based exercises are all popular forms of physical activity that have been shown to be effective.

6. Stretching and mobilisation

Everyone should have a daily routine based around flexibility, whether that involves foam rolling, stretching or other mobility exercises.  Regular mobility work will help reduce the tension of the muscles attaching in and around the back and increase the back tolerance to load in certain positions.  Using tools such as a spiky massage ball, foam roller or back balls can help further reduce the tightness in muscles, not too dissimilar to the effect of a massage.

7. Heat or Ice – which is better?

Ice is usually recommended as soon as an injury occurs due to its analgesic effect.  So ice can be applied for 20 minutes every two hours for the first 48-72 hours, however the research has suggested this does not help with the healing process.

Heat may be helpful in increasing blood flow to the tissues which may increase oxygen delivery and aid with removal of waste from the local area.  It also has an analgesic effect and this may help relieve pain.

Truth of the matter is, research on which is better unremarkable. So use whichever one you feel comfortable using. At very least the analgesic effect will help ease discomfort.

8. Stress relief

Stress builds up tension in your body, not just your mind.  This commonly presents in your body in your back, neck and shoulders.  Practicing relaxation exercises can calm your mind, reduce stress hormones in your blood, relax your muscles and elevate your sense of well-being.  Examples of self-care include mindfulness, deep breathing, stretching and meditation.  Using them regularly can lead to long-term changes in your body to counteract the harmful effects of stress.

A common breathing exercise used for stress relief is “foursquare breathing”. Try this. Breathe deeply, so that your abdomen expands and contracts like a balloon with each breath. Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale to a count of four, then hold to a count of four. Repeat for ten cycles.

9. Massage and manual therapy

Manual therapy may help to reduce pain in many different ways.  Massage will increase blood flow to the muscles and connective tissue, which will promote healing. It may help stretch and mobilise tense tissue, thus aiding in relaxation of the area.  It may alter the pain signals that are sent back to the brain.

If you don’t have someone to give you a massage (or they are not willing), using a foam roller or spiky massage ball can be just as effective.

 

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