As a physiotherapist, long term back pain is my bread and butter. Anyone that has ever had a session with me, will understand that treatment of back pain is changing, less hands on, more understanding your beliefs about your pain. Our approach to this age-old affliction is evolving and a huge factor in change is how we communicate to others.
Notably, we need a shift in culture around back pain. In my practice I am too often told by patients that they don’t want to be ‘that person that moans about their achy back all the time’. Whilst reeling off a list of cultural classics like ‘I always try to sit up dead straight, I avoid bending and lifting, I’ve stopped doing any strenuous exercise..’ Thus, in the spirit of positive spinal change, here’s some advice on taking back resilience up a notch.
First of All
Stop telling others that you have a bad back. Pop. That. Thought. Every time you talk about your ‘bad/knackered/crumbling/old/…insert your negative adjective here…’ you reinforce that mental image that you have pain. This creates behaviour change; bad habits like avoiding normal movement, which can actually lead to more pain. When really, our spines are the most resilient and amazing structures we own. That’s a promise.
Once Upon a Time
Back pain usually starts with some temporary injury that becomes a habit. Followed by some unhelpful movement patterns, then a longer term learned response of being over protective and fearful of movement. When the temporary injury is all resolved, we are left with an echo of pain that we try to avoid with the aforementioned-I-never-bend-to pick-up-so-much-as-a-Kleenex scenario. Over time, the spine gets grumpy at you, it wants to bend and move as per its original design. Your back is there to protect you, not the other way around. It’s about time to show it some movement TLC. Time to get out of the thought loop that something is fundamentally wrong and start thinking about all the things your spine can do.
At this point, I am often told what my patients love to do and that quite often they are pain free doing it. Which leads me nicely into unlocking your own pain relief. Activity, deep breathing, laughing, and socialising unleash our inner pain relief. That is physiotherapy kind of prescription. Warning: This medicine is unlimited with the risk of joyous side effects. Use wisely.
- Your spine is resilient and amazing! It thrives with activity.
- Relaxing the muscles around the spine with effective breathing helps the muscles move in the way they were designed. Try; Inhale 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times and do these 5 times a day.
- Wriggle and shimmy! Sat down in a chair, arch your back to gently stretch, then roll the pelvis back to slump the lower spine. This is a great way to move the lower back.
- Pick your fun! Which activity do you like doing? Does it get your heart rate up and use your whole body? Walking, swimming, Zumba…It doesn’t really matter. Get out there and start doing it! Commit to spending time on yourself – enjoy that 20-minute walk outdoors – imagine each step as a journey moving toward an active, pain free life.
- Seek a pro. Find a chartered physiotherapist to get some specific help with your movement and a personalised programme to help build your confidence moving forward.