How to help combat back pain

by Rosie Reynolds

Back pain and how to relieve it

Experiencing back pain is unfortunately an all-too-common problem. Estimates often place an 85% likelihood an individual will experience some kind of non-specific back pain during their lifetime. While often accredited to physical stresses, like heavy lifting, repetitive movement or staying in the same position for too long, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that back pain can be caused by a wide range of other factors.  

Pain can often be exaggerated or caused by mental wellbeing, overall stress and even work/life balance. Paying attention to and taking steps to improve your mental health and lower your stress levels can be key to alleviating back pain in the long run.  

Another important part of reducing back pain is to stay active. Making sure you take time to exercise throughout the day when it’s possible and try not to stay in the same position for extended periods of time.  

While it might seem natural to take time off and rest when experiencing pain, research suggests that staying relatively active during the recovery period can reduce the time it takes to recuperate. Many years ago, the medical advice was to stay sedentary and on bed rest until you were fully recovered, but evidence since then has in fact largely proven the opposite to be true. If returning to work immediately isn’t feasible, try returning quickly and if possible, ask your employer to make some accommodations to make sure your workday doesn’t aggravate the problem. Limiting the time spent off work overall has shown to improve your chances against developing a long term ongoing back problem.  

Undertaking particularly strenuous activity that could trigger or aggravate your symptoms should obviously be avoided, some tasks might just have to be left until you’ve recovered more. But the guiding principle should always be to try and return to normality as soon as possible, as this will do far more to prevent long term and chronic pain than simple bed rest.  

One other issue that gets brought up a lot during discussions about back pain is that of ergonomics in the workplace. Ergonomically designed products are those which are designed specifically to promote comfort and ease of use over lengthy periods of time according to an individual’s specific requirements. Generally speaking, ergonomics focuses on ensuring the work environment, the tasks and equipment used is suitable and comfortable for each employee.  

It might appear natural that ergonomic factors like having lumbar support in a chair and tailored height for desks and monitors would be key elements in avoiding back pain. However, there is in fact little evidence to suggest that these considerations are the determining factors in pain prevention. Rather than ergonomics, the strongest indicators of future back pain risk are having a previous history of back pain and psychological distress, both of which correlate far more strongly with the development of chronic lower back pain than ergonomic considerations of an individual’s workplace. 

Instead of placing importance on ergonomics, the research again swings towards the importance of regular exercise as the most important tool to combat back pain. Although it is certainly important to understand your individual pain and how it originated, and the best course of action will likely be specific to you and your situation.   

Staying active within the boundaries of your current tolerance is key to returning to normalcy, which can be achieved by finding key exercises to do at work, when you’re able to take breaks and when you’ve finished work for the day too. The research in this area repeatedly emphasises the importance of regular exercise and activity over setting up the ideal desk space.  

Of course, ergonomics needn’t be totally ignored. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to remain comfortable at work generally, and there’s certainly no evidence to suggest it can do much harm even if the medical benefits might be over-exaggerated by some over-zealous chair salesmen. But it’s integral to keep in mind that the most effective tool in the box for most people will always be staying healthy with regular exercise.

If you've ever experienced back pain, you'll know how uncomfortable it is and how faster diagnosis and treatment can make a significant difference. With a WPA healthcare package from Slimbridge Health, you can gain access to the best private healthcare in the UK, with much faster diagnosis and treatment.

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