Six tips for preventing back pain

AGE FOTOSTOCK

Sometimes all it takes is picking up a box or bending in an awkward direction to experience back pain.

But while it may be easy to overprotect the spine by avoiding exercise or particular movements, it's important to remember that the back and its supporting structures are very robust and flexible, especially if you regularly work on strengthening and mobilising.

Read on for six top tips from Dr Stefaan Vossen, chiropractor and clinical director at Core Clinics, for preventing back pain.

Stay active

Even if you hit the gym a couple of times a week, this won't always be enough to compensate for sitting at your desk all day and slouching on the sofa all evening.

"Try to change your position or the activity you are doing often, and when you are having to sit still for a long time, relieve the tension with some neck and shoulder stretches," he advised. "Try to do at least some exercise each day - a short walk is fine and brightens the mood. And weighted exercise is great for your back. It kills off stress and floods your brain with serotonin. It also protects you from osteoporosis, boosts testosterone levels and helps your immune system significantly."

Avoid over-repetition

If you have a more physically active job or you're on your feet for more of the day this is generally better for your back as well as your overall health. However, repeating a similar physical task multiple times can lead to back pain due to repetitive strain injury.

"Do a workplace risk assessment or review your desk set-up," said Dr Vossen. "If you can't avoid repetitive activity (because it's your job or a sport that you love playing) look at your posture and technique to see if they can be improved. A physio or chiropractor can help with this."

Make changes

Lots of people developed back pain during the Covid-19 pandemic because their routines changed so much.

"If you want to significantly change your activity levels, you can do this, but don't rush into it without a plan. That's when injury occurs," the expert explained. "Be sure to set realistic goals. Research clearly shows that if you introduce small changes and let them bed in, they will take root and flourish far more successfully than wholesale life changes."

Lower stress

Stress tends to show up in our bodies as pain sensitivity and tension - especially in the shoulders, neck, and upper back. When stress becomes chronic it can affect your posture and the way you move, which can in turn result in back pain and other symptoms.

"Look to build stress-reducing techniques into your day. Mindfulness, breathing techniques, massage, or just a chat with a friend over coffee can all help," he noted.

Focus on nutrition

Poor eating and inadequate hydration can affect your back just like the rest of your body. The joints and muscles in your back need to be hydrated and nourished, especially under stress or when injured.

"Too many starchy foods and refined carbs can cause an energy slump which may cause you to slump your shoulders, putting strain on your upper back. Try to choose higher protein meals, vegetables, nuts, and seeds," said Dr Vossen. "Also, drink at least a couple of litres of water a day. There's nothing wrong with cups of tea or a couple of cups of coffee a day but try not to go over that and choose low or caffeine-free options once you hit the afternoon."

Get better sleep

You spend a third of your life in bed so your sleeping environment and sleep routine can have a significant effect on your back.

"A supportive mattress; a cool, dark room; and comfortable temperature-regulating bedding are key for good sleep," he added. "In addition, orthopaedic pillows that support your neck and spinal posture are well worth the investment."