About eight in 10 Australians will suffer back pain at some point, either coming on suddenly from an accident or developing slowly.
“While it can be distressing and disabling when it happens, the vast majority of sufferers find that pain usually resolves by itself with no specific medical cause to blame,” says rheumatologist Dr Geoffrey Speldewinde.
Aside from injuries, general wear and tear and disease, Dr Speldewinde says sedentary lifestyles may be the cause of such pain, which means many symptoms can be resolved by making a few simple adjustments.
Your core is a complex series of muscles that includes everything except your arms and legs. Having a weak core causes poor posture, back pain and reduced strength and movement.
“In addition to abdominal muscles, your core includes your diaphragm – which controls breathing – and your pelvic floor,” Physiocise physiotherapist Anna-Louise Bouvier says.
For ongoing back pain, Anna-Louise highly recommends enlisting the aid of a professional, such as a physio, who can help you pinpoint and strengthen any potential trouble spots.
“Whether it’s poor posture or [the result of] not enough exercise, your physio can help you address problem areas with tailored exercises that increase your core strength,” she says.
While they might look stylish, high heels can ruin your back’s alignment and put stress on the spine because they alter your centre of gravity.
“This added pressure causes you to sway, leading to poor spinal alignment and overuse of back muscles,” Anna-Louise explains.
She says flat shoes can be just as bad. “The absence of arch support can be very hard on your feet, hips and back, resulting in increased pain and decreased balance and support,” she reveals. Look for a slightly raised heel, such as a low wedge. If your GP can’t determine the reason for your backache, consider an appointment with a podiatrist to check your feet, gait and alignment.
“Sometimes a change in footwear or using orthotics can make a world of difference in altering your biomechanics, so it changes how you perceive back pain,” Dr Speldewinde adds.
When you slouch, your muscles and ligaments strain to keep you balanced, which can lead to tension and tightness.
Anna-Louise says sitting for longer than 45 minutes at a time is a major cause of back pain, so try to get up and walk around at least once an hour. Other ways to ease the load include using your knees when you bend and stretch, lifting with your legs and not your back and rolling your shoulders regularly during the day to take the tension out of your neck.“Sometimes placing a cushion under one buttock or a pillow in the small of your back can help to alleviate pressure on your spine,” Dr Speldewinde says.
We each hold our stress in different parts of our body – some people have restless legs, others clench their fists, but many of us hold stress in our back. Stress and back pain create a vicious cycle because when you’re in pain you tend to worry about it and your back muscles tighten even more! It can seem like there’s no escape.
Being able to identify and eliminate emotional triggers is the key, but if you can’t remove the source of your tension, try stress-reduction techniques, such as deep breathing and visualisation.
“The way you breathe has an effect on your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles that can be really useful for keeping your back pain under control,” Anna-Louise says. “Massage therapy can also help ease backache, but it’s not going to fix the problem long-term.”
Although some back pain goes away on its own, this can be one of the body’s sore spots – that’s where medication enters the picture.
“How much you’ll need depends on how bad the pain is, but certainly medication can play a role in helping you sleep better at night or get through a particular activity,” Dr Speldewinde says. “The aim is to make the pain more tolerable. You don’t want it to disappear completely because that often leads to the need for stronger medications that can cause constipation and fogginess and interfere with your sleep cycle.
“Paracetamol and ibuprofen may be required, but heat packs can also ease back pain.”
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