Experts say two-thirds of us have suffered some form of back pain by the time we’re 30. And after coughs and colds, it’s the most common cause of days off work.
But rather than lying flat on your back, or popping painkillers, you can beat backache.
The link between stress and back pain
Backache is the second most common cause of long-term sickness in the UK, after stress. But stress and back pain are closely related. New research by charity BackCare reveals our stress levels, coupled with faulty beliefs, can actually predict our chances of developing long-term back pain.
Stress causes the body to respond differently to physical stimuli. Back pain is very real, but it is now believed to be caused by abnormal signaling from the brain, rather than damage to the back itself.
So instead of physical remedies such as painkillers or chiropractic, the focus has moved on to psychological treatments including cognitive behavioural therapy. If you suffer from persistent backache, ask your GP about talking treatments to see if they could help.
What causes back pain?
Stress may be the most common cause of back pain, but some physical factors do make backache more likely. One is sitting for long periods during the day, which bends our backs forward. This put pressure on the front of the vertebrae (the bones in our spine), which in turn squeezes the discs of cartilage between them so they bulge out, triggering backache.
Being overweight can also cause back pain. Excess weight puts pressure on all the joints, but a large stomach can pull the pelvis forward, arching the back and squashing discs in the spine.
A lack of exercise is also to blame. Not only can it lead to weight gain, it means you won’t be putting your joints – including your spine – through their full range of movement. They can then become stiff, lose their mobility, and eventually seize up.
Arthritis may also be a factor. Wear and tear affects everyone, but keeping the joints fit and healthy with exercise can help reduce inflammation and the rate of decline. If arthritis runs in your family, it’s even more important to look after your back.
Top tips for beating back pain
- Up your vitamin D intake Indian researchers recently discovered those with low vitamin D levels also suffered from chronic low back pain. It’s thought the vitamin may have a role to play in reducing the immune system’s inflammatory response.
- Limit your time on mobile devices Whenever you use gadgets like tablets or smartphones, your neck and spine are bending forwards. Too much screen time could also be interrupting your body clock, leading to insomnia.
- De-clutter your handbag Carrying heavy bags on one side of your body can throw the spine out of alignment. Switch to a rucksack or cross-body bag, and give your handbag a regular clear out.
- Ditch the high heels There’s strong research to show that wearing high heels every day can contribute to back problems over time. Alternate between flats and mid-heels, and keep the killer heels for nights out.
- Try complementary therapies A study published in the British Medical Journal found practicing the Alexander Technique could help relieve back pain, while NICE – the government body that approves medicines in the UK – now recommends acupuncture for non-specific lower back pain.
- Stay active Gone are the days when bed rest was recommended for a bad back – the key to is to strengthen the spine and keep it flexible. Walking, cycling and Pilates all work the core muscles, which help support the back. Swimming and hydrotherapy are ideal as the water takes pressure off the joints, while the extra resistance can help strengthen muscles.
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