The muscles of your back are the largest muscle group in your body and having strong upper back muscles is imperative to performing well. A strong back allows us to do daily tasks, such as house and garden chores and enables us to lift heavy objects. Strong muscles help to prevent injury during sports, especially upper-body sports like tennis, golf and swimming. Back pain is very common but normally improves within a few months; however it can sometimes be difficult to identify the actual cause. Pain often occurs for no apparent reason, doctors call this “non-specific” back pain, or it can be the result of an injury such as a sprain or strain. Sciatica is caused by irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis, through your buttocks to feet. Pain is sometimes due to a slipped (prolapsed) disc, where a disc of cartilage in the spine presses on a nearby nerve. These conditions may have additional symptoms such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation and are treated differently to non-specific back pain.
Pain in the lower back (lumbago) is particularly common, but pain can be felt anywhere along the spine from the neck down to the hips. Anti-inflammatorys, such as ibuprofen can help relieve, but pain can last a long time and may keep coming back.
Poor posture can cause back problems so it’s important to strengthen and maintain mobility of the back. With bad posture breathing becomes more difficult and the amount of air inhaled is less. Stress is a major cause of back pain but relaxation techniques such as deep breathing will help manage stress. However resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse so help reduce your backache and speed up your recovery by being as active as possible.
Both exercise and stretching can help and swimming, yoga and Pilates are most beneficial. For temporary pain relief apply alternate hot or cold compression packs, such as a hot water bottle followed by a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth. If pain doesn’t start to improve within a few weeks, or gets worse, making it difficult to cope, see your GP. You may be referred to a specialist doctor or a physiotherapist.
Prevention is better than cure so keep your back strong and supple by being active, but always ensure you lift heavy objects by using the correct lifting technique. The trick is to bend your knees and hips, not your back, and if you carry a heavy rucksack use both shoulder straps. Become conscious of your posture, don’t “hunch” your shoulders and whether sitting or walking “think tall”. I find it a good idea to take a short break from sitting in front of my TV or PC to stand up straight every 30 minutes. Finally check that your bed gives you the correct support and comfort for your weight and build.
Ex 1 SIDE TWIST to improve posture and back mobility
Stand or sit upright, pull in tummy and concentrate on posture. Bend elbows out, bring your hands up in front of chest, fingertips touching. Twist from waist only and take upper body, arms and head and look around to right side. Come back to centre and continue to twist around to left side. Keeping elbows up and fingertips touching repeat twisting 5 times to each side to work your back.
Ex 2 CIRCLES to release tension in shoulders and upper back
Stand or sit, bend your elbows, raise arms and place fingertips on shoulders. Keeping your fingertips in position bring elbows forward together in front of your chest. Lift elbows upwards and draw an imaginary circle out to either side and on backwards pulling your shoulder blades together as far as comfortable. Continue circling elbows down to sides then back up to start position. Repeat circling 5 times clockwise and 5 times anti-clockwise.
Ex 3 BACK STRETCH to relieve back ache
Sit back in a chair, feet flat on the floor. Place both hands around your right knee and lift your right foot up off the floor. Bend forward from your waist, bring forehead down onto your knee, or as far as comfortable. Keep this position, lifting elbows slightly and rounding out your back. Feel the stretch and hold for 10 seconds. Return your right foot to the floor. Repeat movement lifting your left foot and knee up and holding the stretch for a further 10 seconds.
Ex 4 KNEE ROLLS to help to stretch strengthen and mobilise the lower back.
Lie on your back, arms out, palms facing down, knees bent and together and with a cushion supporting your head. Keep your upper body relaxed, roll your knees to right side, but keep both shoulders on the floor. Relax and hold the stretch for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times, alternating sides. (placing a cushion between your knees may help)