5 Habits That Could be Causing Your Back Trouble
The great news is that back pain doesn't necessarily mean there is anything 'serious' wrong with your back. However it can certainly be troublesome and have a significant impact on your quality of life.
Back pain affects many of our clients - it can stop them doing the activities they love, from gardening to golf, drain their energy and make them feel 10 years older than they actually are. It can be a real worry and some clients are also concerned about the impact it may have on their independence.
Over time as an expert working with people with sore, stiff backs, just like you, we have been able to identify some habits which are common to many of the cases we see, which make back pain more likely.
As the saying goes - knowledge is power - and once you know what to avoid, AND what to do instead, you have the power to take action to keep your back healthy. Even if you have back pain it is possible to improve it with a few simple changes to your daily routine.
So without further ado, let us get into the 5 daily habits that commonly lead to back pain and how to avoid them
Habit #1: Sitting too much
How long each day do you spend sitting down?
There is plenty of research out there which show that desk based jobs are a major risk factor for back pain and even when not at work most of us spend a long time sitting each day (think about all the time you spend driving, and sitting on the sofa).
While low, soft chairs are probably the most risky it is a myth that expensive, perfectly adjusted ergonomic office chairs can eliminate the risk of back pain. They just can't! Even with a completely bespoke chair, created just for you, it would still be likely that you would develop back pain if you spent 8 hours a day sitting in it. So why is this?
Well simply it isn't the chair that causes the back pain. When we habitually sit for a long period of time our muscles adapt to the position, leading to short, tight muscles in the back, legs and pelvis.
As well as the tight muscles feeling sore they can change the forces acting on the bones and joints of the back and pelvis making back pain more likely.
Have you ever stood up, after being seated for a while, felt the sensation of tightness in the legs and back, and needed a minute to stretch to feel normal again? This is what I'm talkin about!
Action point #1 to avoid back pain: Limit the length of time you spend sitting at 1 time. At work a simple tip is to set an alarm (the one on your phone is great) to go off each 30 minutes when you are sitting at your desk. Each time it goes off, stand up and have a little stretch and walk before returning to your chair. Try it for a couple of days - you will be amazed at how different you feel at the end of the day!
Habit #2: Too much time spent on mobile phone
It's the modern world - we all have smart phones and the convenience of having these devices is amazing. We can check email, communicate with friends, do our shopping and keep up to day with social media any time we want to.
And mobile phones (and you can add ipads and laptops into this mix as well) certainly have a part to play in the amount of back pain in today's world.
Of course, it's not the fault of the phone. The problem is us - because this unrivalled connectivity is available to us we tend to use it a lot and it's the posture we adopt while doing so which is problematic.
Usually we find ourselves sat, hunched over, head forward, maybe for hours on end. This results in the postural muscles in the back working overtime, leading to tightness and weakness which can lead to back pain
So is standing to look at your phone screen better? The answer is not much. While there can be less direct involvement of lower back muscles the position we crane our heads into in order to see the phone puts pressure through the entire spine and muscles which can be immediately uncomfortable and can persist even when you have put the phone down.
We are all guilty of this to some extent. If you are reading this on a mobile device I would be willing to bet that you have just straightened up a little whether you are sitting or standing!
Action point #2 to avoid back pain: Be sure to take regular breaks from your mobile devices, especially in the evening when it is really easy to spend hours scrolling through social media.
As an experiment try sitting or standing in a well supported position and instead of dropping your chin to look at the screen, keep looking straight ahead and lift your phone instead. How long can you last before your arms get tired? I bet it's not that long! The same is happening to your back and neck muscles when they are supporting you head.
Try to find a position where you don't feel like you are straining your neck and shoulder to look at your phone - and take regular breaks!
Habit #3: Not getting enough sleep
Sleep is restorative. It's when our bodies can relax and repair and get us ready for the next day. In fact more than that a lack of sleep is likely to be a significant risk factor in back pain.
Having sufficient sleep is really important. If you are not getting enough sleep there are increased risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. And guess what - there is also a link between these conditions and back pain.
Sleep research suggests that we need at least 8 hours of sleep each night, with some people needing more.
So how do you know if you are getting enough? According to some experts some of the tell tale signs that you are not sleeping enough can be needing an alarm to wake up, not feeling refreshed on waking, feeling that mid afternoon slump of energy and needing to rely on multiple coffees and sugary snacks to get through the day.
Action point #3 to avoid back pain: There are number of ways you can try to improve your sleep.
Some tips to try are setting a routine so you go to bed at the same time each night, turning off screens (mobiles, ipads, tv's) an hour before bedtime, and limiting caffeine intake, particularly after midday.
It is also important to get enough exercise during the day but try to keep it before 6pm to allow the body to wind down.
Sleep can be problematic for some people so do seek further help if you are need to.
Habit #4: Skipping exercise
You're more likely to have back pain if you don't move and exercise.
Lack of mobility can lead to the muscles in the back becoming stiff, tired and sore which can be a cause of some back pain.
The support of the spine is also helped by the big muscles of the stomach and back and inactivity can lead to these muscles becoming weaker and giving the spine less support.
Many of us get up in the morning, jump in the car or on the train, go to work, come home again, have dinner and slump on the sofa, without any real exercise. Unfortunately out muscles take a 'use it or lose it' approach so continued lack of exercise is likely to result in loss of muscle strength which can make back pain more likely
As we have already seen exercise has a positive impact on both sleep and feelings of anxiety and depression which are also risk factors for back pain so it is clear to see that being active is hugely important.
Action point #4 to avoid back pain: Plan some time each day to exercise. The current UK government guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 times a week as a minimum.
Moderate exercise would be classed as a brisk walk but even day to day activities such as cleaning, climbing stairs will help.
Try to do some lifting of weights as well. This can be in the gym, but there are many other ways to achieve this. Carrying bags of groceries for example can be a great workout.
It may be that you are unable to do activities such as these for many reasons - the important thing is to do what you can and do it daily and consistently.
Habit #5: Ignoring small aches and pains until it is too late!
"I'll just wait and see if that ache goes away on it's own"
I bet you have said that at some point and we are all guilty of it to a certain extent. We get a niggle and just keep going on as we have been, just hoping that something changes and it goes away.
With back pain this rarely happens. aches and niggles of this sort are generally a signal from our bodies that something is not quite right and we need to make some changes or take some action.
As the famous quote goes, insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result". You need to make changes and take action.
And it's not just if you have back pain. We see many people who see us with back pain and when we talk to them we find that they have had another problem, often a knee or ankle problem, which has been ignored and ended up with back pain.
Action point #5 to avoid back pain: You need to take action. If you have aches and pains in your back try following the tips set out here and don't ignore those other niggles and aches. They are trying to tell you something.
In many cases you can avoid situations as described above by getting seemingly small problems sorted out early.
Get advice from a qualified professional who can intervene early on and stop your ache or niggle becoming something which has a major impact on your quality of life.
This is not an exhaustive list of habits which can lead to back pain but are some of the most common we see in clinic.
If you are suffering from back pain, whether is has been there for a long time and refuses to go away, or has just come on, there may be a problem with your movement which is stopping it from getting better.
At Ian Thornley Osteopathy we are experts on back pain and we will undertake a full movement assessment, help you understand what is causing your pain and tell you what the steps are that you need to take to get it feeling better.
Click here to book your free discovery session at Ian Thornley Osteopathy where we can talk about your situation and how to move you towards feeling and moving better.
We have produced a guide of 10 Expert Osteo Tips to help your back pain. This guide is for those who are committed to getting better and want some self-help strategies that we have found help our patients at In Thornley Osteopathy. To get the guide simply click below.