Back Pain & Sciatica
Back pain will affect more than 60% of us at some stage in our lives. It can cause referred pain so we could have symptoms in our hips, groin and buttocks, or we could develop sciatica as the pain travels from our lower back down through the sciatic nerve in the back of each leg.
As we get older, our bodies lose some elasticity, particularly in the discs between the vertebrae and the joint cartilage, and this increases the likelihood of developing back aches and pains.
How can it be treated?
Keeping ourselves fit and active and preparing our bodies for large physical tasks can also help.
How to avoid back pain and injuries
There are things you can do to minimise back problems and keep yourself fit and mobile for longer.
Tackling a big job? Get fit first
More minor injuries are as a result of DIY or gardening than sports, so if you know you have a weekend of physical activity such as gardening, patio laying, decorating or spring cleaning, build up to it, especially if your day job is sedentary.
Break up large jobs. Change your posture, vary your movements and intersperse your activity with regular rests.
Get professional help
If you have back problems, consider paying for professional help. In the long run it may be cheaper – 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 play sport, reduce the level or frequency of any training whilst the body is fighting infection, and then build back up again gradually.
How hard is your bed?
More back problems are caused by beds being too hard than too soft. If you think your bed is too hard, try the ‘duvet trick’.
Fold a spare duvet in half (or into thirds) lengthways. Place it on your mattress so that it runs from the top to the bottom of the bed and put 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 and offer extra support. It’s particularly helpful if you weigh less than ten stone, or if you sleep on a firm bed.
If this helps, you could buy a waffle mattress topper.
Unless your back is acutely painful, do try to keep mobile. Gentle walking or swimming are ideal exercises for encouraging recovery, even if you just take short walks around the bedroom or around the garden. Try to do this two or three times a day and build up gradually.
It’s much harder to regain your strength and mobility once you’ve lost it, so try to keep active all year round. Exercise two or three times a week at least.
Use painkillers wisely
Painkillers and anti-inflammatories can help to break the pain cycle and keep you mobile. You might be concerned that tablets will ‘mask’ the pain and allow you to injure yourself further but this is not the case – the spine will very quickly let you know if you are overdoing things.
By encouraging gentle movement you’ll help the muscles and joints return to healthy, normal function. But be sensible – if something really hurts, don’t do it!
Try ice packs
Ice will reduce swelling and inflammation and help to ease pain after an injury. You can buy a soft gel ice pack or make your own – wrap some crushed ice in a plastic bag or a hot water bottle, put a packet of frozen peas into a pillowcase or drench a flannel in iced water and then wring it out.
In some cases cool, rather than freezing may be better, particularly around the neck. In that case, keep your ice pack in the fridge rather than the freezer.
Apply it regularly – for about ten minutes every 1-2 hours.
The back relaxer
Lie on the floor with a small pillow under your head and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Place your feet slightly apart, keeping your knees together. Lie like this for about fifteen or twenty minutes. This will allow the muscles to rest and the pain to ease.
Lie like this for about fifteen or twenty minutes. This will allow the muscles to rest and the pain to ease.