Trouble with your back does not simply produce pain in the back. Often it may cause symptoms in more remote areas such as the buttocks, groin, hips, and legs (commonly called sciatica). Indeed research has shown that problems related to the back may affect over 60% of the UK’s population at some stage in their lives.
NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines recommend manipulative therapies including osteopathy for the treatment of low back pain.
When young, the body can adapt easily to the stress and strain it is put under. As it grows older (over 25 years!) it begins to lose some of the elasticity which gives the body the flexibility to cope and adapt. In particular this applies to the discs between the vertebrae and the joint cartilage. These require regular movement to ensure their maximum range and thereby increase local circulation and nutrition to the surrounding fluids and tissues. (Taken from The British Osteopathic Association Back Pain leaflet)
General Tips for Back Pain Sufferers
Keep Mobile. Unless your back is acutely painful, do try to keep mobile. It is much easier to return to work if you have not been completely bed-ridden for weeks. Gentle walking or swimming are ideal exercises for encouraging recovery.
Use Painkillers Wisely. Painkillers can help to break the pain cycle and prevent chronic pain patterns setting in. Use painkillers and anti-inflammatories to help you keep mobile. Patients are often concerned that such tablets will ‘mask’ the pain and allow them to injure themselves further – this is not the case. The spine will very quickly let you know if you are overdoing things; by encouraging gentle movement you will help the muscles and joints return to healthy, normal function. Be sensible. If something really hurts – don’t do it!
Take Little Walks. Depending upon your level of pain, try to walk around the bedroom, or up and down the garden, or around the block. Try to do this two or three times a day, building up gradually.
Wherever Possible, Try To Keep Active. It is much harder to regain your strength and mobility once you’ve lost it. If you enjoy gardening, or playing a particular sport in the summer, try and find some activity to keep you fit during the winter months too. Exercise at least twice (and preferably three times) a week; it doesn’t have to be the same sport each time – it could be two or three different sports or classes if that makes it more enjoyable.
Get Fit First. You should never attempt any physical activity to which you are not accustomed without getting fit beforehand. Most people would not contemplate playing ninety minutes of football at the weekend without first embarking on some form of training or fitness regime. Yet many patients confidently believe that they could spend an entire weekend decorating or gardening, without any physical preparation whatsoever!
Do You Prepare Yourself Physically before a weekend of gardening, patio laying, decorating or even spring cleaning? If you have a sedentary job, any physical activity with which you are unfamiliar can cause you injury if your muscles are not prepared for it. More minor injuries occur as a result of D.I.Y. or gardening than are caused by sports.
Don’t Try And Finish A Large Task In One Weekend. Break the work up with regular changes of posture and with rests. The work will still get done in the end, but without the accompanying back ache!
Get Professional Help. If you have back problems, consider paying for professional help. It may be cheaper in the long run (and better for your back) to pay for a gardener, builder or decorator to do the job for you, rather than to pay for treatment if you injure yourself attempting that job.
Don’t Overdo It If You Feel Unwell. Muscles and other soft tissues can become inflamed and more susceptible to injury if you are suffering from an infection (for example a cold, ‘flu, kidney infections, sickness or diarrhoea). If you feel unwell, try to avoid strong work or exercise. If you are a sporting person, reduce the level or frequency of any training whilst the body is fighting any infection, and then build back up again gradually.
Make Sure Your Bed Is Not Too Hard. More back problems are caused by beds being too hard than by beds that are too soft. If you think your bed is too hard, try the Duvet Trick.
The Duvet Trick
Taking a spare duvet or eiderdown, fold it in half (or into thirds) lengthways. Place this on the mattress so that it runs from the top to the bottom of the bed, placing a sheet over it to keep it in position. This creates a soft layer that will effectively mould itself to the shape of your spine, thereby offering extra support. This is particularly helpful if you weigh less than ten stone, or if you sleep on a firm bed.
If you find this does help, foam ‘Mattress Toppers’ are also available through the Practice, priced at between £60 to £90 depending on the size of the bed.
Lie on the floor with a small pillow placed under your head, bending your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Place your feet slightly apart, keeping your knees together as shown here.
Lie like this for about fifteen or twenty minutes. This will allow the muscles to rest and the pain to ease.