Before implementing any advice on low back pain you should first be assessed by an appropriate healthcare practitioner as not all advice is appropriate for all types of back pain.
Lower back pain is the most common thing I see in clinic. Over 80% of people will experience an episode of back pain at some point in their lives.
One of the key factors in managing back pain is figuring out what things in your day to day life aggravates and stops the pain from getting better.
Obviously your lifestyle is important to you and the aim is not to stop you doing things just implement some day to day changes to manage your pain better.
One size doesn't fit all. People have different conditions causing their pain, they place different demands on their body, have different health problems and even the way they experience pain is unique.
However there is some standard day to day considerations we can pay attention to in order to limit the strain on our back.
1) PREVENT ROUND SHOULDERS
A stiff immobile upper back (thoracics) can place strain on both our lower back and neck. Try these tips to prevent round shoulders and free up your upper back
(a) Tuck your chin in
Whilst looking forward gently pull your chin in. Be sure you keep looking forward by fixing your eyes on something in front of you to stop you from just looking up or down.
(b) Don’t slouch
Push your hips right back against the backrest of a chair. Even if they slide forwards 1 or 2cm from the backrest your shoulders become rounded and your spine stiffens. This is particularly important in a softer chair like a sofa.
You don't only slouch when you sit. Being partially bent forward when standing e.g. when texting or doing the washing up can cause round shoulders.
2) KEEP ACTIVE
A sedentary lifestyle is known to contribute to the risk of developing back pain, as well as contributing to obesity. Regular physical activity helps to keep the core muscles that support the spine strong and maintain flexibility, which will help to avoid back pain. To avoid injuring yourself further seek appropriate advice from your osteopath or appropriate healthcare provider before deciding what activities to do.
Some simple tips include:
- In children encourage lots of active play. However walking, running, swimming, cycling, etc will keep your spine strong as well as keeping you fit and healthy.
- Pace your activities. Try and separate a job into more manageable chunks and with time to recover between activities.
- If you are experiencing pain set goals by writing a list of things you can do rather than can’t do.
3) LIMIT THE STRAIN AT YOUR WORKSTATION
A poorly adjusted workstation can cause rounded shoulders and back. To correct this you can read our previous blog on ergonomics.
Looking down to use smart phones, tablets and laptops for an extended period can pull the back and neck into an unnatural posture, resulting in pain. Placing limits on the time spent using devices and encouraging regular breaks may help to avoid problems. When using laptops consider purchasing a support that elevates the screen to a height that allows you to sit up straight to look at it.
4) USE YOUR CORE
Your core muscles are a series of muscles that support your joints all over your spine. When you move or lift a weight your core muscles tighten to support your spine. By doing core muscle exercises be it through Pilates or functional training you train your core muscles to support your spine during day to day activities.
As an example one of the key Pilates techniques to align, lengthen, and protect the spine is to draw the navel to the spine. Abdominal hollowing, or the abdominal drawing-in manoeuver engages your core muscles with the aim of stabilizing your pelvis (sacroiliac joints) more so than just tensing your abdominal muscles.
However you don’t get full value by initiating this manoeuvre during the movement it must be before. Research has shown to stabilize the spine for movement core muscles must activate no later than 100 milliseconds prior to the movement.
Core muscles can also be activated by correct breathing techniques (refer to our previous blog). You use 93 muscles all over your body to breath. You use them 93 muscles up to 23,040 times a day 7 days a week. It pays to use them correctly! A recent study on breathing pattern disorders found a strong correlation between incorrect breathing patterns and poor posture, shoulder blade, low back, neck and jaw (TMJ) pain.
5) AVOID STRESS
Psychological stress and anxiety has been associated with and known to make worse how we feel pain. This is due to the intimate link with the parts of the brain that senses pain and controls aspects of our stress response, nervous system, hormones and body organs. This is partly how pain can literally make us feel sick, give us anxiety or just make us feel depressed.
Negative thinking and low moods is a common problem with persistent pain. More so if your pain affects your relationships and work causing financial worries or causes sleep depravation.
Any pre-existing mental health problems are likely to be aggravated with persistent pain and it’s best to talk about things with friends, family or your GP. This is because when pain lasts, the brain switches and instead of letting pain take center stage it activates circuits that process emotions. That’s why emotions like anxiety are often prevalent in chronic back pain and why emotional control becomes much more difficult.
6) SLEEP POSITION
Your sleep position isn’t just determined by the position you put yourself in but also the position your mattress puts you in.
Experiment with different sleeping positions and pillows or using different beds in the house to find one most comfortable. Some patients perform exercises or take measures they find helps their symptoms before they go to bed for a better night sleep.
Mattresses are very individualistic and what suits one doesn’t suit another. However if your symptoms are aggravated after a nights sleep or improve if you sleep in another bed then it might be worthwhile reviewing your mattress.