Almost four in every five people will struggle with back pain at some stage in their lives. Not everyone can rush off to the doctor at the first twinge. While many different things can cause backache – such as bad posture, pinched nerves, overuse, injuries – managing the pain is similar for most of these.
It is important to remember that painis the body's warning signal: if it hurts to bend down, your body is telling you to try and prevent that particular action. Listen to it.
Here are a few tips how you can manage your back pain:
A rolled-up towel or small pillow
Travelling long distances by car or aeroplane forces you to remain in a static position for long periods of time. This might cause lower back pain as it’s most likely that your seat will not give proper support to your back. By placing a rolled-up towel or small, round pillow in the hollow of your lower back, it will support the natural curve of your spine and prevent backache. You can even use it at the office if your chair has poor back support.
Pillow between the knees
If back pain is causing you to lose sleep then try to lie on your side with a pillow between your knees. If you feel more comfortable sleeping on your back, place a pillow underneath both your knees to reduce strain on your lower back.
Nothing soothes aching back muscles quite like a hot- water bottle. Place the hot-water bottle over the painful area and leave it there for approximately 20 minutes. This will give the overworked back muscles time to relax.
A too soft mattress is a common cause of back pain. Your mattress needs to be firm enough to give your spine the support it needs. Place your mattress on the floor if you suspect it might be too soft. It is worth investing in a decent mattress, as you spend approximately one-third of your life on it.
A ‘braai tong’
Picking up an object from the floor can aggravate an already painful back. If you have serious back pain or have had back surgery, keep a ‘braai tong’ handy to reach for things on the floor, or the TV’s remote on the coffee table.
Your belly button
Every human being is equipped with a natural back brace – it’s called your core muscles. It wraps around the lower core area the same way an external back brace does. By pulling in your belly button, the core stabilising muscles are activated. This offers much-needed back support. When you feel the familiar backache, pull in your belly button and let your body’s natural back brace relieve the strain on your overworked back muscles.
Getting in and out of the bath might place unnecessary strain on your back. Rather take a shower. If you have trouble keeping your balance or standing long enough, drag a plastic garden chair into the shower (if it’ll fit). Get a non-slip mat for the shower. Also let the shower run for an extra few minutes if you have used hair conditioner, as this makes everything extra slippery.
Whether you’re standing, sitting or lying down, your spine should ideally be in a neutral position. When looking at your spine from the side, there is a natural forward curvature of your neck and lower back, and these need to be supported when you are sitting or lying down. Any joint that is forced to be out of its neutral position for long periods of time will become painful. These include the joints between the different vertebrae during an eight- hour workday or eight hours of sleep in an unsupported position.
Picking up heavy things
Instead of bending your back to pick something up from the floor, rather bend your knees while keeping your back straight. Lifting heavy objects with a bent back is a likely way of damaging a spinal disc, which is a spongy cushion between the vertebrae.
Lose the extra weight
An oversized belly will most likely cause the lower spine to have an increased forward curvature, causing lower back pain. If you lose the weight, you will most likely have less back pain. This is also a reason why pregnant women struggle with lower back pain.
- (Celeste Vlok, physiotherapist)