Up to 80% of us have back pain at some stage during our life. In most instances it is just a mild soreness after doing something more strenuous than usual, and it settles within a few days on its own. Occasionally it becomes more troublesome, and starts interfering with activities. Treatment may then be required. However, there are also a number of things you can do to help yourself.
Some of the ideas and advice below may contradict widely held views of back pain and its management. However, our current understanding of back pain has meant we need to rethink some of what we say and do.
Firstly, as mentioned above back pain is common, but it is rarely serious. In most episodes there is no damage to the tissues. You have not torn a muscle or a ligament, or popped a disc out of place. This quite different to when you sprain an ankle or pull a hamstring. The back is a strong and flexible structure and is meant to be moved and used. It is not delicate and does not need “protecting from harmful activities”. Bed rest for normal episodes of back pain is a definite no.
Except in the most severe cases, xrays and MRIs are of no benefit and can be harmful. Studies have shown than in a population of adults with no history of any back pain there can be numerous MRI findings including bulges of multiple discs. As you get older these findings become even more common.
As you get older these findings become even more common. They are a normal part of our body growing and aging. They don’t help us decide on what is the best treatment.
You should not fear movement or protect your back. Doing this increases the sensitivity of your back and often increases the muscle tension which can lead to increased levels of pain. Keeping moving with gentle to moderate exercise and activity is important. This helps our body realise it is safe to move so the pain settles, allowing us to do more. Common sense does apply to how much you do.
Finally posture is not as important as what we were lead to believe. As mentioned our back is meant to be bent and moved. There is no perfect posture. However repetitive movements or sustained positions can lead to problems if we don’t have sufficient general strength for our body to cope with what we are asking of it. General body strengthening, and changing positions regularly are more important that the position we are in.
If you have concerns about your back talk to us about how we can help you help yourself.
By Chris Butler