BACK PAIN: How to get BACK to your best!
You are not alone. If you are reading this and have suffered from back pain at some point you are part of 80% of the population, who have been in the same boat navigating the choppy waters of discomfort.
This can be fairly temporary and it can go away within hours. For others it is much more chronic. Not only does the person in pain suffer, but employers and the NHS are substantially hit due to back issues. Up to 5 million working days a year are lost to back pain!
We’ll look into the function of the spine, the main causes of back problems and what can be done to help.
THE VERTEBRAL COLUMN
The spine is a complicated structure. From the neck down it comprises of 33 vertebrae divided over 5 regions. It is split into 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, 5 lumbar, 5 sacrum and 4 coccyx vertebrae.
The spine is there for protection of the spinal cord and all the messages that are sent to and from the brain, support of the muscles/organs and enabling daily function through mobility and shock absorption.
The cervical vertebrae goes from your skull and is in your neck providing mobility and support. The thoracic is a curved part of your upper back and the only area that rotates. It also provides an attachment for your rib cage. The lumbar curves the other way and is in your lower back region which connects the thoracic to the pelvis. The sacrum and coccyx are the bottom two regions which are fused and rigid unlike the column above. The top three areas are where you are most manipulatable and where most of our issues will occur.
Injuries to the spine and surrounding areas can be various. This includes sprained ligaments, muscle strains, ruptured discs, slipped discs, degenerative discs and irritated joints. A pinched nerve in the spine can manifest itself with pain or discomfort in body parts further away.
FACTORS LEADING TO BACK PAIN
Frustratingly the causes are usually not clear. In fact, in around 85% of cases no clear pathology can be established. However there are known contributing factors.
PREVIOUS INJURY: Back pain is not often a one off, history of back pain repeating itself is unfortunately very common.
OBESITY: being overweight adds an increase in risk to the musculoskeletal system as the body is under greater strain.
PHYSICAL WORK: overdoing it, lifting too heavy or with poor technique can trigger an injury.
SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE: on the other hand, you can be immobile and cause pain through inactivity.
SMOKING: we know it’s bad for your lungs but it can impact your back too as it impairs blood flow and thus the nutrients we need do not get around.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS: Stress, anxiety and depression can also prompt more physical outcomes and can manifest itself in your back.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
MOVE: The single, most effective thing is to be active! It won’t surprise you reading this on a fitness blog but using your muscles will lead to positive change. Whether it is a gym session, Yoga, Pilates or even walking, all will be a tremendous help in overcoming and preventing any injury.
KEEP CORRECT POSTURE: Getting those shoulders back is a primary, positive trigger for most of us. A long proud spine is a good way to go and can help the muscles interact correctly and reduce strain. Footwear can also have a big impact and sadly high heels may have to go if your back is playing up.
WARM UP PROPERLY: Stretch during a warm up and at the end of a session. Cliché alert but fail to prepare, prepare to fail! Mobilise the spine and stretch the major muscles and joints around it from the hips and shoulders.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT: The pressure on your body is managed with a healthy weight, therefore your diet and exercise will be vital in your injury coping strategy. The spine will be under less pressure when you are in good shape.
LOWER IMPACT: Sometimes a reduction in shock to the body will reduce strain on joints. For example; instead of running, do the cross trainer if it feels more comfortable.
CORRECT TECHNIQUE: Under pressure of lifts, particularly heavy ones, it is imperative to protect the body by lifting with the right technique. You will reduce risk as well as promote progress when you move appropriately.
SLEEP: Perhaps you’ve woken up with a bad back. Maybe you are uncomfortable sleeping, and changing your mattress can improve matters. The knock on effect of a good night’s sleep will set you up for the day ahead too.
QUIT SMOKING: hampered circulation of nutrients around the body can be alleviated when you stop smoking.
IMPROVE YOUR WORKSTATION: I’m typing this not sat on a chair but on a stability ball. How very Gym Manager of me! Back issues are not just fixed in a gym. You can look to improve habits throughout your everyday activities. For example, sit tall when you drive and adjust your rear-view mirror to this height. Should you slump you will be reminded whenever you check out the road behind you.
IMPROVED MENTAL HEALTH: Being regularly active will release endorphins which in turn will help with mental health issues and can reduce back stress, which cyclically may make activity more appealing again.
WHAT EXERCISES SHOULD I DO?
Exercises that target core muscles will be of primary concern. Some of the key core muscles in your lower back and tummy include transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, multifidus, erector spinae and the obliques. Target these with exercises like planks, leg raises, back extensions and trunk rotations.
In addition firing up the glutes, and lats/trapezius in your upper back will firm up the support of your back and improve posture. Rows, pulldowns and squats or lunges should serve you well.
Keeping mobile with stretches will also enhance a positive outcome.
We began with figures so let me end up with some to lift the doom and gloom!
90% of people with acute back pain will recover within 6 weeks. Only 7% go on to develop chronic issues and this unfortunate group accounts for 80% of the costs outlined earlier. In the end the best thing you can do is be more active.
Ultimately if you are not sure come and speak with one of the gym team, it is a frequent issue we deal with and will always be happy to help.
WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR SPINE, WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK!
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