If you’ve ever suffered from back pain you’ll know what a, well, pain it is. 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives and the number of people with back pain increases with advancing age, peaking between 35 and 65 years of age. During any one year, up to half of the adult population will have back pain and healthcare costs for back pain are a staggering £1.6 billion per year.
So, how can you avoid being one of those statistics? Here are a few tips to help avoid back pain:
1. Stay active. Activity doesn’t necesserily mean sport or exercise. Simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference. Think walking to the shops rather than jumping in the car, kicking a ball around the garden with the kids and taking the stairs insead of the lift.
2. Stay strong. A strong back is a healthy back. Think of your back muscles as scaffolding supporting the vulnerable structure of the spine. The less these muscles are used, the weaker they will become and the more susceptible you’ll be to injury and back pain. Heard of ‘core stability’? The core muscles (see pic) provide a ‘corset’ around your torso and stabilise the spine. Core stability is simply strengthening these muscles through simple techniques such as Pilates or gym ball work. Swimming and running are also great for core stability. Do it and your back will thank you.
3. ‘Zip and hollow’. Learn to contract your core and apply it to everyday tasks. Zipping and hollowing is the zipping of your pelvic floor muscles and the hollowing of the abdomen. Imagine you’re trying to stop yourself half way through going to the loo (sorry, bit crude but it’s the only way to describe it). That’s the contraction of your pelvic floor muscles. Then, when you’ve mastered that try it whilst contracting your core muscles. Draw your navel into your spine and contract without letting your tummy bulge out. Put your fingers on the front of your hip bones, walk them in an inch and this is where you’re aiming to feel the contraction. It takes a bit of practice but once you’re there you can zip and hollow whenever you lift or whilst exercising to help protect your spine.
4. Sit up straight. Ok, so we all know that we should sit with our back straight, not slouch etc. etc. but it’s pretty hard to maintain a good posture throughout the day, right? Here are some tips:
- When working on a computer, ensure your chair is at a height where your eyes are level with the screen and you don’t have to tilt your head up or down
- Try sitting on a gym ball at work. It’s easier to stay stable if your back is straight and your core muscles will be firing up without you even reaslising it.
- Stick post-its on your screen or steering wheel saying things like ‘shoulders back’ and ‘back straight’. Sounds silly but the little reminders will keep you in check thoughtout the day.
- Don’t lock out your knees. When we lock our knees when we’re standing, our bum sticks out in a rather fetching ‘duck’ position, we get an unnatural curve in our lower back and our shoulders slouch. Remember to keep a slight bend in your knees when standing.
- Finally, when we have a good, strong posture, we can look a dress size slimmer. Is that not motivation enough?
5. Get a massage. Sports or deep tissue massage will iron out any tension in your shoulders, making it easier to draw the shoulers back and down and achieve that elusive good posture. It also keeps the muscles supple, relaxes tight muscles and breaks down any scar tissue that may be there. This all goes towards easing movement of the spine and keeping the back strong.
6. Be careful when lifting. When lifting a heavy object, bend your knees and try to take the weight with your legs. Remember to zip and hollow and brace your core.
There are plenty more things you can do to maintain good back health but follow these simple steps and you are well on your way.