It’s an astounding statistic, to think that most of us spend on average 2,000 hours of our lives sitting at a work desk. With 80 per cent of adults suffering from some form of back pain in their lives, it’s important to stay active for good back health.
Back pain can come from many causes, but often it can stem from, or be made worse by slouching at our desks or on the sofa while watching TV. It might be that you’ve lifted something at a funny angle, or woken up with pain after twisting in your sleep. However it may appear, you can help to prevent it by strengthening your back and core muscles through exercise.
With the NHS spending out more than £1 billion every year on back-related pain, it’s clear that we need to look after ourselves better, by making ourselves more active.
It might seem counter-productive to exercise when you have back pain, but often keeping mobile is the best thing for lumbar health. By keeping active, you prevent your back seizing up and you maintain better mobility going into older age.
After stress, back pain is the most common cause of long-term sickness in the UK and accounts for more than 7 million working days being lost every year.
Back pain can take on many forms, from just general niggles, to more serious pain including sciatica, slipped disc, frozen shoulder and whiplash.
In most cases, the recommendation from the NHS is to stay active and most cases of back pain should ease after about 12 weeks. Obviously it’s vital that you talk to your GP before undertaking any exercise regime with a bad back, but prevention is better than cure, and with minor pain you can take up some gentle exercises to help ease the pain.
Swimming is an ideal exercise for anyone suffering with back pain as it means you are being supported by the water and the movements are gentle and not impacting on hard ground. It means your joints don’t take any force and it’s a smooth movement which in many cases can help to realign your back.
Gentle walking can often help to ease back pain and often if the pain is serious enough for you to see a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath, then they will most likely give you structured exercises that target your specific back problem.
In the past it used to be recommended that bed rest would be the best cure for back pain, but now most health professionals agree that moderate exercise is by far a better way of managing it and helping to cure the problem.
If you have been lucky enough to not yet experience back pain then you can continue to help yourself by doing exercises that strengthen your core muscles. Sit ups, and gentle weights, brisk walking or running, and swimming all help to build your muscles and give you more strength to protect your back.
When lifting, remember the golden rule to bend with your knees, keeping your back straight – the classic posture of the weight lifter, and when sitting keep a good posture with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Don’t sit at your office desk for hours on end without getting up for a break and stretching your back to ensure you don’t seize up.
Stretching activities such as yoga and pilates are super back-friendly as they work on slow movements to get into strengthening postures. When you’ve been sitting hunched up all day, these exercise can help to realign your back and strengthen the muscles around your spine, helping to keep it protected.
We take our backs for granted in everyday life and it’s easy to go for a whole day without being active at all. Government guidelines are for 30 minutes of exercise each day to get your heart rate up. This could be a brisk walk around the block, a swim in the pool or a quick jog. But keep in mind that you should really be doing more than this. If you think you can walk to the shops rather than needing to take the car, then do so. If you can take the stairs rather than taking the lift – take that option. Often it’s the small decisions we make in our daily lives that impact on our health considerably. The more active you can be with the choices you make day to day, then the more you can protect your future back health.
Back pain can be crippling and it’s only when you’ve got it that you realise how much you miss the freedom of being able to live an active life. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Don’t fall victim to this. Be aware of what you’ve got – be active and stay active for life.
by Kath Webb
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