Over 80% of adults will experience back pain problems during their lifetime. For some, this can be the result of a trauma caused through sport or perhaps a road traffic accident; for others, pain can be the result of general wear and tear caused by daily routines. Sitting at a desk or slouching in front of the television can lead to back pain, as can general bad posture. But no matter how your back pain develops, it is evident that the condition can become incredibly debilitating over time.
Back pain is the most common reason for taking time off work, showing just how much it can disrupt your daily life. Pain in the lower back is particularly common, although it can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck down to the hips.
For most people, back pain eventually rights itself over a period of weeks. However, this is a long time to have to go without feeling like your usual active self. More often than not, the problem will actually worsen and it can become necessary to consult with a physiotherapist. With the assistance of a back pain specialist who has a deep understanding of what could be contributing to your discomfort, it is possible to speed up the recovery process and put in place a programme to avoid the problem reoccurring in the future.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to improve your spinal health. From moving to meditation, here are our top 11 tips for effective back pain relief.
Check your posture
Back pain is often the result of continued poor posture habits. Slouching when you sit and curving your back when you stand can lead to significant wear and tear over time. By simply making a conscious effort to correct your posture and maintaining better alignment can reduce pain and strengthen the muscles that support your spine.
Before you leave the house every day, check your posture in the mirror. Roll your shoulders back and straighten your spine, and try to maintain this posture throughout the day. If you work at a desk, try to sit with your spine straight, your feet on the floor and your monitor at eye level. You should also take a short break from your desk every 30 minutes.
Don’t become bed ridden
If you’re suffering with severe back pain, often the most tempting thing to do is to lie motionless in bed and hope it gets better. However, the balance of rest and activity is a difficult one, and relying too much on one or the other is only going to make things worse. By remaining in bed without moving, you’re not allowing your spinal muscles to stretch and strengthen. Try to take short walks every so often and engage in a few simple stretches.
Switch up your exercise routine
If you suspect your back pain might be caused by lifting heavy weights or the spinal pressure of running long distances, try switching up your usual exercise routine. Swap heavy exercises which are likely to increase spinal pressure with stretches designed to relieve and strengthen your back. Gentle yoga routines can help you continue to build strength and stamina while being gentle on your spine. This will help alleviate your pain instead of exacerbating it.
Strengthen your core
As well as making the effort to strengthen your spine, you can also help speed along the pain relief process by strengthening your abdominal muscles. The core is made up of a combination of different muscle groups, all working together to support your body as it moves. If the muscles on one side of your body become weak, then other muscles are forced to compensate – which puts them under increased strain.
Working on core strength is often about exercising in balance and encouraging all of the muscles that support your trunk to work together.
Don’t rely too much on support
Knee, back and elbow braces are a common sight in gyms around the country. And they can be very useful when attempting heavy lifting. However, it is important not to become too reliant on these kinds of support over the entire course of the day. Like staying in bed, wearing braces may weaken the muscles of the body, as they become dependent on that extra support. Try to limit support use to 15-minute intervals unless otherwise recommended by a physiotherapist or other qualified health professional.
Improve your flexibility
Back pain is often the result of too much tightness and tension in the spine. As such, improving your flexibility is a good way to try and alleviate back pain. Simple stretches can help you do this, including basic yoga movements like ‘downward dog’: positioning yourself on your hands and feet on the ground, then pushing your hips upwards, trying to keep your palms and heels flat.
Apply ice and heat
Temperature control is a good way to alleviate both sharp and chronic pain associated with back pain. It is difficult to say whether ice or heat is most effective in treating back pain, and a large part of the decision should come from what feels best to you specifically. However, it is often recommended that ice be used for sharper pains and those caused by injury, as it can reduce swelling. After 48 hours, switching to heat for more achy pain is often recommended as a way to relieve tension.
Back pain is often a symptom of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as these can lead sufferers to move less, eat less healthily and neglect posture. Improving your mental health as well as your physical can therefore be a key step in alleviating back pain. Therapy is often a helpful part of rehabilitation, and even simple lifestyle changes can help, such as practising relaxation techniques like tai chi and yoga.
Stop bad habits like smoking
A study in the American Journal of Medicine found that current and former smokers are more likely to suffer from back pain than those who have never smoked. This is because nicotine causes small blood vessels to constrict and decreases the delivery of blood to the soft tissue.
Sleep the right way
The amount of sleep you get is an important aspect of your overall health, but so is the position you sleep in. Sleeping in a bad position or on a bad mattress can often lead to back pain and a lack of mobility, especially first thing in the morning. Generally speaking, the best sleep position is on your back, with a pillow under your head and one beneath your knees. This keeps your spine as straight as possible. Side sleepers should place a pillow between their knees to keep their spine straight. Sleeping on your stomach is ok for some but it is typically seen as the most compromising position as it can place strain on the neck and back.
See a specialist
Sometimes home remedies aren’t enough to treat your back pain effectively, and consulting a qualified physiotherapist may be necessary to ensure you don’t end up doing any further damage. Booking an appointment with a professional who is a back specialist is a vital first step on the road to recovery for many sufferers.
For effective pain relief, visit the back pain experts at Harley Street Physiotherapy.