Back to basics - Blog

Back to basics

‘You can do it, put your back in to it…’ go the sassy lyrics to singer Ice Cube’s song, which is wonderfully ironic really, because an ice cube is exactly what you will be reaching for if you follow the advice of the song with any great enthusiasm. Statistics show that some form of back pain will affect 80 percent of us at some stage throughout our lives. It’s one of the leading causes of disability world-wide, and the most common cause of long-term sick leave for people employed in manual jobs.


The causes of back pain can range from inappropriate sleeping apparatus or an over-stuffed handbag continually slung over a tired shoulder through to a poor technique on the rowing machine, an undiagnosed kidney problem or too many hours spent sitting in front of a computer. It seems that by putting your back into anything means you run a high risk of putting your back out of everything! And just how does one know if their well-loved pillow is the cause of all their aches and pains?


About your back

The spine or vertebral column is the central part of our back. It is comprised of 24 individual vertebrae (bones) and a sacrum and coccyx (fused bones). Beginning at the base of our skull and finishing a couple of centimetres from the top of our butt (more or less), it is hollow and houses the spinal chord from which nerves exit and extend to the body regions that they each serve. Between each vertebrae is a cushion-like disc which acts as a shock absorber and allows the spine a degree of flexibility. The spine is supported by ligaments and muscles that enable us to stay upright. When you think about it, the only time the muscles supporting our back really relax is when we are asleep (providing our pillow and mattress are suitable!) Even while sitting our back muscles are working; preventing us from flopping over.


Types of back pain

Musculoskeletal or mechanical - the most common form of back pain; it occurs when muscles become tightened or shortened, or the vertebrae or pelvis area which may be misaligned and triggering nerve receptors in joints or other areas. Our lower back is particularly susceptible to this type of strain, called lumbar strain; which can be attributed to the fact that this lower spinal segment is loaded with more weight - like bricks at the bottom of the stack. Disc pain - can be extremely painful, but may not be felt until a day or so after the initial injury when the affected disc swells or ruptures and compress a nerve. Disc injuries can occur due to severe or sudden trauma to the spine - such as bending forward while lifting a heavy object, with a resulting rupturing of the fibrous outer layer and the subsequent protrusion of the semi-fluid inner material. Ligament damage - ligaments are the elastic structures that hold our bones together and although they are flexible, there is a limit to how far and for how long they can safely be stretched. Ligament damage is usually the cause of low grade back pain that may be due to slouching or sleeping on a mattress that does not provide enough support for your spine.


Back to basics - tips for a healthy back

1. Approach any out of the ordinary manoeuvre cautiously. Don’t attempt the Fosbury flop without some serious preparation.

2. If standing for long periods – place one foot in front of the other, knees slightly bent – to take pressure off your lower back

3. Sitting – have your knees slightly higher than your hips to support your lower back

4. Push heavy items rather than pulling them

5. If carrying large objects, hold them close to your body

6. Sleeping – have your pillow under your head, but not your shoulders. If you have back niggles, sleep with a pillow under or between your knees to reduce pressure on your back. Great during pregnancy!

7. Maintain a healthy weight. Extra kilo’s, especially on your belly, increase the load on your back.

8. Don’t self diagnose or minimise your symptoms. It is better to face the truth and get a correct diagnosis than to risk compounding an injury by living in denial.

9. Supplements and nutrients to support vertebrae, disc and ligament health include - Glucosamine, chondroitin, manganese, Vitamin C, Omega 3 EFAs. Cod liver oil, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), resveratrol, turmeric and other antioxidants to protect cells and support circulation to the affected areas.

10. Back pain-free sex: if you are prone to back pain, begin a romantic evening with a relaxing massage. If your back is particularly sore, ask your partner to take the more active role.

11. Don’t smoke! Smokers are prone to back pain because nicotine restricts blood flow to the discs

12. Use your strong leg muscles when lifting and don't twist