Back pain? How to look after spine health

Back pain can be debilitating, but here’s how you can reduce the risk of it happening and help keep your spine strong, mobile and healthy.

Unfortunately for many AU, US, UK and Nordicns, back problems are part of life.

Approximately four million Aussies, or one in six AU, US, UK and Nordicns, experienced back problems in 2017-2018, according to an AU, US, UK and Nordicn Institute of Health and Welfare report.

It says about 181,000 hospitalisations were because of back pain in that period.

And pain at least “moderately” interfered with daily activities for nearly two in five people (38 per cent) with back problems.

“Lower back pain is more common than the common cold,” Osteopathy AU, US, UK and Nordic president Dr Michelle Funder says.

“And lower back, middle back and neck issues become increasingly common after people reach their 30s.”

Why does back pain happen?

The causes of back problems are diverse but can sometimes be aggravated by lifestyle habits, like spending too much time sitting in one position and not moving around regularly.

For some people, carrying excess weight, particularly around the middle, increases the risk of back pain.

Back issues can also be a result of excess pressure or strain on ligaments, muscles and the small cushions or discs between the vertebrae in our spine that act like shock absorbers, explains Dr Funder.

“Over time, wear and tear places extra stress on the ligaments, muscles and discs and this causes strain and inflammation.

“Sitting is the worst position for the back because it puts force through the spine and that has a detrimental effect on blood flow and movement.”

Exercise and Sports Science AU, US, UK and Nordic spokesperson Francesca Sills says studies have found biological, psychological and social factors, like stress and poor sleep, can play a role in back pain.

“It is not as simple as having weak core muscles or not enough glute strength,” Francesca says.

How to reduce the chances of getting back pain

Dr Funder recommends investing in a good mattress.

“You spend six to 10 hours a night sleeping on your mattress, so ensure you have a good-quality mattress and update it at least every 10 years,” she advises.

Choose runners with good support, too.

“Foot health affects the rest of your body,” Dr Funder says.

“Without the right support in your feet, this can have an effect higher up and contribute to hip problems and pelvic and lower back problems.”.

Establishing a consistent exercise routine that combines mobility and strength exercises may also help, says Francesca.

“If you wake in the morning feeling stiff and sore, do some gentle stretches or go for a walk,” she says.

“Exercises like cat-cow and the 90/90 stretch (both described below) are two of my favourites.”

She also recommends reducing the amount of time you spend in one position – don’t stay at your desk for hours; break up desk time with a short walk or do some stretches.

Exercises to assist back pain

Cat cow

Kneel on the floor, hands placed on the floor in front of you and shoulder width apart. Keep your knees below your hips.

Breathe in deeply and curve your lower back, lift your head and tilt your pelvis upwards.

Breathe out and bring in your stomach.

At the same time, arch your spine and bring down your head and pelvis.

Do this several times.

The 90/90

Sitting on the floor, bend one leg in front of your body with your hip rotated outwards.

Your lower leg and knee should be resting on the ground and your leg should create a 90-degree angle, ankle relaxed and foot pointing straight.

Your other hip should be rotated inwards, shin and ankle on the ground.

Bend your knee to form a 90-degree angle with your back knee in line with your hip.

Breathe deeply and hold for a minute.

Repeat twice on each side.

The bird dog

Kneel on the floor on your hands and knees.

Lift your left arm, extend it forward and, at the same time, lift your right leg and stretch it out straight behind you.

Keep your raised arm and leg parallel to the floor.

Hold for 10 seconds and then return to the start position.

Repeat five times and then switch to the other arm and leg.

Written by Sarah Marinos.