Does it surprise you to know that lower back pain is the leading cause of time lived with disability?
Today is World Spine Day which is a great reason to take the time to be grateful for everything your amazing spine does for you and show it some tlc.
Here are some top tips inspired by the World Federation of Chiropractic’s World Spine Day content (you can find more information about the WFC and World Spine Day here
You’ve got to move it!
Try to move your body for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. This doesn’t have to be a high-energy gym session or zumba class if that’s not your style. You’re far more likely to persist if you choose exercise you enjoy. Walking the dog, yoga, or cycling are great choices if you want something lower impact.
Weight-bearing exercise is great for bone health, and especially important as we age and the risk of osteoporosis increases. Again this doesn’t have to be heavy weight lifting! Incorporating hand or wrist weights into your walk or workout can make a big impact over time.
If you really can’t find the time for structured exercise, using ‘habit stacking’ (where you add a new habit into something you already do) might work for you. For instance, could you get off the bus a couple of steps early or do part of the school run by car? Could you build some stretches to your morning routine – making the bed, showering, getting dressed?
With more of us working from home and hot-desking we often don’t have the idea workstation set up (laptop on the sofa anyone?) It’s worth taking the time to set up a more ergonomically-friendly desk area or speak to your employer about helping you to do so (employers have legal duties to carry out appropriate risk assessments to ensure your workplace is safe, whether that’s in an office or in your spare room).
Having a proper height adjustable office chair with arm and back rests is a great start. Positioning your keyboard and screen at the right height and angle can also help with neck and shoulder pain and reduce the risk of RSI (repetitive strain injury).
Whether you’re working or chilling on the sofa, try not to sit for too long or without taking regular breaks. Try to change your position from time to time, get up for a stretch or a walk around, and grab a glass of water while you’re at it. Another option to consider is a standing desk. These can be purchased or ‘diy’ (there’s lots of inspiration online). As well as helping with back issues just by standing rather than sitting to work you significantly boost the rate at which your body burns calories.
Are you surgically attached to your phone or tablet? Prolonged use of a mobile device, particularly if you’re slouching when you do it, can cause neck and back pain. If you’re spending a lot of time scrolling on social media or doom and gloom news sites this can also negatively impact your mental health which, in turn, can contribute to increased pain perception.
Consider setting a timer to remind you to take a break from your phone and move around, or scheduling specific time slots for scrolling. Protect your back when lifting by avoiding reaching
If your job involves a lot of lifting make sure that you’ve received the appropriate manual handling training and follow it. If your lifting technique is poor, even lifting lighter objects can cause back problems if you repeat the pattern often enough. Protect your back when lifting by avoiding reaching or twisting and pushing up through your knees and legs rather than through your shoulders.
Know your limits and ask for help when lifting particularly heavy or awkward objects.
Eat well to feel well
Obesity can increase your risk of back pain along with many other health condition. Avoid over-loading your joints by adopting a healthy diet and active lifestyle to keep yourself at a healthy weight. If you eat a lot of highly-processed food and few whole foods, and if you consume caffeine, alcohol or pharmaceutical products, this can have an ‘inflammatory’ effect on your system.
Inflammation can contribute to lots of health issues including skin complaints, digestive issues, and increased muscle and joint pain. Try to eat a wide range of foods including good quality protein, vegetables and fruit, grains and pulses.
Did you know that our spines and bones can get dehydrated? Keep them healthy by drinking plenty of water – aim for around 8 glasses of water a day (if you really can’t manage 8 glasses of water, herbal teas or water with a touch of cordial are a good alternative).
Mind and body
We are increasingly understanding how connected mental and physical health are. If your mental health is under pressure it can affect everything from your posture to the inflammation in your muscles and joints, and your perception of pain. Someone who is anxious or depressed will tend to rate their pain as being worse than someone with the same physical symptoms whose mental health is good.
Adopt strategies to support your mental health (see our recent blog post here for some ideas).
A lot of the suggestions we make above to help your back – taking breaks, eating better, being active – are also great for mental health.
Sleep easy (or not)
Getting good quality and sufficient sleep is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing, including your back. It is really worth investing in a good mattress and supportive pillows. If you have back or neck problems it’s a good idea to speak to your chiropractor or consult a retailer that specialises in orthopaedic beds. Having a good bedtime routine which enables you to wind down and switch off easily can make a big difference. Try to limit caffeine, alcohol and blue light exposure as you wind down to bedtime.
We hope we’ve inspired you to take a little bit more care of your spine. After all, it’s the only one you’ve got and it’s always got your back.