According to Clinical Sports Medicine, back pain is something that will affect up to 85% of the Western population at some point in their lives. The vast majority of the time the back pain you experience would be classified as “Mechanical low back pain”. This simply means that your back pain is due to the way you move or the positions you put your back in during the day causing too much stress on the structures of the back like the joints, discs or ligaments. Therefore, to fix your pain we first have to fix some of your poor habits that are causing you to put too much pressure on the ligaments, joints or disks of your back. Here are three tips to help avoid or treat back pain.
1. Take regular breaks from sitting.
One of the principle reasons people get back pain is that their back is kept in a rounded position for too long. When in a flexed or rounded position it causes excessive stress and strain to be put on the ligaments, joints and discs of the back. Here is an example, pull your finger back towards your wrist. After a few seconds in this position your finger starts to feel very uncomfortable. Why? Because you are straining the ligaments at your finger and the joint is at its limit of movement, which causes discomfort and pain.
It is the same at your back.
Keeping your back in such a rounded position will cause the ligaments to become strained and overworked. A recent study by Stuart McGill reported that office workers with back pain reported that their back pain got progressively worse throughout the day if they were sitting for 8 hours. However, there is good news from this study. Those workers with back pain who got up regularly (every hour or so) didn’t report back pain. Take away message; giving your back a break from the rounded position even for a few minutes every hour or so allows your back to nearly reset itself and can massively reduce the chance of back pain.
Action: Try to stand up regularly as you can (once every hour would be ideal) for a few minutes to give your back a break. Arch your back a few times or stretch your arms over head. This will allow you to take the pressure and strain off the passive structures (ligaments, joints and discs) of your back and will help to prevent the pain before it begins. Make sure you take the break before your back starts to ache. Get up regularly even if your back is not hurting. Do not wait for the horse to bolt before you close the door!
2. Switch the core muscles back on.
A strange thing about the back is that once you suffer back pain the small core muscles that keep the back in a good position can switch off. The same is true with knee pain. The body perceives danger and so it gets the bigger muscles of the trunk to try to keep everything stable. In the short term this might be ok but long term you need the core muscles switched on and keeping your spine in a good position. If the core muscles are not activated then again it means that the ligaments, joints and disks are doing too much work to keep your back in a good position, which can lead to excessive stress and strain. Studies by Paul Hodges and the Queensland Group in Australia have found that patients with low back pain who undertook 4 weeks of core training were 12 times less likely to sustain further back pain than those who did not do any rehabilitation or exercises. Twelve times less likely. This highlights how important it is to do some exercises to switch the core muscles back on if you have had back pain. This is why we recommend our Sports Pilates class to keep these muscles active and engaged.
3. Get moving well at the hips and upper back.
Another key element to avoid back pain is to stay moving well at the hips. There is a philosophy to movement called the joint by joint approach. Essentially it relates that joints alternate between being primarily mobile or stable. We need good movement at the ankle, hip, upper back and shoulder joint. We need good stability at the knee, low back and shoulder blade. What happens with modern life is that we stiffen up and lose the movement at the ankle and hip. This causes us to move excessively through joints that shouldn’t be moving that much, namely the knee and low back. Therefore, to keep the back healthy we need to spare the spine and keep good movement at the hip.
Just a quick note: I’ve written a book on the back and back pain called “Secrets to a Healthy Spine”. To get that just click here