Did you know that in the UK 51 per cent of working people aged 16-65 suffer from back pain? With an ageing population, increasing obesity and longer working hours more and more people need to manage or relieve symptoms of a bad back.
Naturally it can be frustrating to suffer from back problems and not know the causes or how to relieve the pain. So, we asked the experts to answer a few of the most commonly asked questions.
Is my posture causing me back pain?
“Contrary to popular belief, there is no right or wrong posture,” says Anna E. Roberts, MSK Osteopath and Applied Functional Science. “We now know that back pain is more likely the fact we are more sedentary and sitting for extended periods of time, regardless of posture adopted.
“We are designed to move and change our postures on a regular basis, whether we are sitting or standing. As my mentor used to say to me, ‘motion is lotion,’ so make sure you regularly move the spine through a variety of vectors. Whether it’s through yoga, swimming or playing a sport – it can all help get the spine moving.” Roberts recommends listening to your body for cues and using any dull aches in legs or back as a sign to change your posture.
Why do I wake up with back pain?
“Inflammatory conditions in the back, such as arthritis, tend to cause pain and stiffness in the morning due to being immobile for longer periods. During the day, while we are active and busy, we are often distracted from pains or niggles. But as we sleep, the body gets to rest and digest – so any ongoing injuries, aches or pains are often highlighted during the night or in the morning,” explains Roberts.
Your mattress could also be to blame. “The Sleep Council recommends buying a new mattress at least every seven years as mattresses lose their support over time,” says Catherine Quinn, President of the British Chiropractic Association.
“If you can feel the springs through your mattress or the mattress is no longer level, you may no longer be getting the support you need. Everyone has different support requirements, so if you share a bed consider two single mattresses designed to be joined together to ensure you both get the support you need.”
Should I change the way I work?
Modern working life involving long periods of time sat at a desk can be a key trigger for back and neck pain. “Our bodies are not designed for inactivity, so the best way of avoiding back pain in the office is to move around regularly,” says Quinn.
“Take breaks from your desk and do something completely different. Take a walk around the office, stand up while on the phone and get regular drinks. Simple exercises such as shoulder shrugging and neck stretches whilst at your desk can also help.”
Take time out for a short walk during your break or try a standing desk – but don’t forget you’ll still need to move! Visit mindyourbackuk.com for simple stretches to help increase mobility, reduce stiffness, improve circulation and help tackle back pain.
How can I help relieve symptoms of back pain at home?
“Movement is the key here. It works as a great anti-inflammatory tool, as it calms down the sensitivity of the nervous system, which is associated with how our pain is processed,” explains Roberts.
Quinn agrees: “An active body is essential for protecting you from back and neck joint pain and is a great preventative measure. Incorporating regular stretching and exercises into your daily routine can help you to reduce the risk of developing back pain in the first place.
“Unfortunately, when patients come into see me in clinic they are often in too much pain to do this and feel nervous of movement.” Consult a professional for gentle stretches specific to your condition and complement this with Deep Freeze Pain Relief Glide-On Gel – scientifically proven cold therapy – for cooling, soothing relief from sharp, shooting muscle and joint pain.
When should I go to the doctor about my back pain?
Listen to your body and monitor your symptoms. Backs are made for moving so try to get back to normal activities as soon as you can despite any twinges or aches.
If symptoms recur or get worse, if you experience unusual sensations in the back or if you feel unwell with urine or bowel problems then speak to your GP immediately.
“If you have been experiencing pain for more than a few days, then you should seek professional help,” advises Quinn. “An undiagnosed problem could lead to longer-term problems if left untreated.”
Your GP may refer you to a musculoskeletal specialist, such as a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor, to assess your condition and recommend the best course of action.
Can alternative therapies help?
“Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, mobilisation or manipulation can help with short-term relief for back pain,” says Quinn. “However, it is also important to understand that you will need to be active in your own recovery by following advice from the specialists, keeping yourself fit, healthy, well-rested and relaxed.”
Do I need a scan to identify the cause?
“Imaging isn’t always necessary to confirm and manage back pain. Clinically, we can usually get a good idea as to what is contributing to your back pain through a thorough physical assessment,” says Roberts.
What are my treatment options for back pain?
First steps include self-care so check the advice on Self Care Forum. Most experts agree to keep moving, incorporate stretches and exercises to promote movement and to try topical application of hot, cold or anti-inflammatory therapy to help manage pain. Depending on your type of back pain, manual therapies, such as manipulation and mobilisation and lifestyle changes can all help. Visit mindyourback uk.com for more ways on managing back pain.
Most people will automatically reach for warming therapy to help with back pain, however there is a difference between aching lower back pain, which can be treated with heat therapy, and sharp, shooting (usually nerve) pain or injury, which can be treated effectively with cold therapy.
Cold therapy such as ice packs and ice baths have long been used to reduce pain, swelling and nerve activity. However, it’s not always possible to carry or use ice. Deep Freeze Glide-On Gel works like ice and is a convenient way to soothe discomfort fast, wherever you are.
‘In severe cases your GP may prescribe medication to help you manage the pain however, recent research published in The Lancet advises that simple treatment methods which promote increased mobility are best practice,’ adds Quinn.