Did you know that today marks the end of Spinal Health Week for 2018?
The week aims to raise awareness about spinal health and the importance of good posture.It promotes good posture and taking care of our spines to prevent future health problems.
Unfortunately, it’s common for many of us to go about our lives with back pain – in fact research shows that 16% of Australians have back problems and that that 70-90% of us will suffer from lower back pain at some point in our lives. The pain associated with these back problems is also quite frequent, with one study of people with chronic back pain reporting that 14% of those interviewed experience constant or persistent pain, and 86% experience pain at least one day a week.
Back problems are often very different from one person to another, with this general term capturing pain associated with a range of conditions affecting all different parts of the spine. These can be related to the bones, joints, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues. These can affect the neck (cervical spine), upper back (thoracic spine) and lower back (lumber spine). For some, this pain is related to the lowest regions of the spine, the sacrum and tailbone (coccyx).
Common back problems can include:
- pain related to injuries or existing conditions;
- pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs spreading from the lower back;
- narrowing in the canal of the spine, that the spinal cord passes through;
- degeneration causes by wear and tear;
- pressure on an area of the spinal nerve, attached to the spinal cord; and
- neck pain or a stiff neck caused by disc degeneration.
Unfortunately, in our line of work we primarily work with clients who suffer back pain and problems due to an accident or injury. These range from chronic pain and nerve damage through to serious spinal cord injuries resulting in severe neuropathic pain and the inability to walk. These injuries are always sobering and sadly often mean ongoing pain and back problems for the foreseeable future, if not for life.
For these injuries, the treatment and management is something discussed with and managed by a healthcare professional, and likely requires medication, physio and other treatment.
However, for those of us who experience back pain for different reasons, and may just be looking to address this in some way, there is a range of advice for taking care of our spines and keeping our backs healthy and our body happy.
Here’s some great insight that we’ve collected:
Lift correctly: this is an important one for avoiding the onset of back pain or causing an injury. This isn’t just bending and lifting correctly, it’s ensuring you don’t lift anything too heavy or awkward rather you ask for assistance or use other devices to assist you. We too often see clients who have experienced workplace injuries due to awkward, heavy or repetitive lifts.
Sleep well for your spine: sleep is so important for every aspect of our lives, it allows our bodies and minds to rest and heal. This isn’t any different for your spine – it supports you day in, day out, so take the time to ensure your bed is taking care of your spine while you sleep. This includes having a good mattress, pillows and bedding and being cautious of how you sleep – experts recommend sleeping on your side, not your back or stomach.
Stretch and move: it’s important to regularly stretch out your back and neck, flexibility helps maintain normal joint function, supports a good range of motion and reduces the risk of injury. This goes hand in hand with advice to keep active and ensure you’re moving your spine often. This doesn’t have to be excessive or challenging, walking is great for your spine and some simple core and back strengthening exercises can keep your spine healthy.
Eat well and drink plenty of water: your spine supports your whole body, so it’s important to try and maintain a healthy weight, to avoid placing extra strain on your muscles, ligaments and tendons. It’s also important to stay well hydrated – this is important in maintaining soft tissue elasticity and fluidity in our joints. Our intervertebral (spinal) disks are particularly vulnerable to dehydration and as they lose height (due to loss of hydration) and this can leave us more at risk of painful disk conditions.
Work smart: work is one of the biggest factors when it comes to avoiding causing or aggravating back problems, and can be one of the main causes of back issues for many Australians. While we may automatically think of those sitting at their desks (some say sitting is the new smoking) it’s just as important for active workers to care for their spine – those in manual labour roles, or performing repetitive movements or lifting frequently (e.g. baristas and other hospitality workers as well as many blue collar roles) are also prone to injury and back problems.
Lastly, pay attention to the warning signs: don’t ignore pain, twinges or restricted movement. It’s important to take note of these and consult a healthcare professional – left unaddressed these could progress into more serious conditions or permanent impairments.