Back pain is a common problem that many of us suffer from but rarely seek help for, whether it's a nagging lower back pain or feeling pain up the spine.
While back pain can be really debilitating, it can often go unexplained and come and go at random, but the more you know about the causes of back pain, the quicker you can get to treating it.
We reveal the most common causes of back pain you could be coming into contact with every day, and enlisted the help of Becky Lees, physiotherapist at backpainhelp.com, to show you what you can do to help yourself feel pain free...
Backache trigger 1: Too much telly!
When you think about how much time you actually spend on the sofa over the course of a week, the reality might shock you. Sure, it feels like the odd hour here and there, but it soon adds up, and this could be one of the major causes of back pain for you! Because you're sitting for a long time, your back muscles are stationary which doesn't do them any favours. Plus, if you're already susceptible to an achy back, staying still will just make it worse.
How to treat it
- Stand up every half an hour or so during whatever you're watching
- Try a plank during the advert break to strengthen your back
Backache trigger 2: Your smartphone
We spend an awful lot of time stooped over our smartphones, setting reminders and writing to-do lists, and all that looking down could be putting a lot of pressure on your spine. A new study shows that as the head tilts forwards, up to 60lbs of added pressure could be pressing on your neck and spine.
How to treat it Improve your posture when using your phone:
- Sit up straight.
- Your ears should be in-line with your shoulders.
- Keep your shoulder blades down and back.
Backache trigger 3: Pregnancy
While you're pregnant, the ligaments in your body become looser and stretchier to prepare your body for labour. And all this stretching can put a strain on your back (not forgetting the extra weight you're carrying around on your front).
How to treat it
- Avoid lifting heavy objects (thankfully people do a lot of this for you when you're pregnant!).
- Gentle exercises to build your stomach muscles will help strengthen your back. Yoga and pilates are particularly good for building core strength and are safe during pregnancy.
- Keep your back well supported by sitting with a cushion behind it.
- Take a break and have the occasional lie down if you're feeling the strain coming on.
- If you're stooping to use your worktops, sit at the table instead.
- Start your pelvic floor exercises now! Don't wait till after the birth, these muscles are important in stabilising your pelvis and preventing pubis symphsis pain.
- Try to not let it all hang out! The temptation to lean back to counter your lovely blossoming tummy can put pressure on your back. Try to use your muscles to hold yourself and support the baby bump.
- Gentle swimming can be lovely to take the weight off, especially in the later stages. Just relaxing in the water and walking in the pool is great!
Backache trigger 4: Your period
Ah the old period strikes again. As if PMS wasn't bad enough already, some of us experience nasty bouts of back pain during our period too. The reason this happens is that sometimes the cramping of your uterus can press on nearby blood vessels, which starves surrounding muscles of oxygen. This is why your tummy, back and sometimes thighs and bum can feel achey and sore.
How to treat it
- Put some heat on the affected area. A hotwater bottle or Cura-Heat packs (opens in new tab) from Boots are great for the lower back.
- Taking Ibuprofen will treat both the back pain and cramps as well as having an anti-inflammatory affect.
- Try applying pain relief directly to the area, we recommend Ibuleve max strength gel (opens in new tab) from Boots.
- Get a massage or ask a friend or partner to give you one, it can relieve tension in the affected area but should also help to de-stress you all over.
- Trying to pull your tummy muscles in when you feel sore and bloated can be uncomfortable. Try going for a gentle walk to relax your muscles and get the circulation flowing.
- Gentle movement and stretching of the back can help too.
Backache trigger 5: Stress
Stress really does have a lot to answer for. While you might think stress is strictly psychological, you may not know that it can affect a person in many physical ways too. Stress can cause you to feel tense and unable to relax, and this can put strain on the back muscles.
How to treat it
- Keep on top of the pain with pain killers so as not to let the stress of being in pain add to the stress you're feeling already.
- Relax - take some time out, have a massage, read a book in a comfy chair, do things that you like to do to chill out.
- Acupuncture is said to be great at relieving back pain and stress alike.
- Read our 10 tips to stop stress.
- Stress can cause lots of tension in the muscles, particularly across the shoulders. Try rolling your shoulders first forwards and then back to break the tension.
- Take three deep breaths, in via your nose and sigh out through your mouth, and feel the stress drain away as your natural relaxation systems kick in!
- Go for a walk! Get up, move, physical action is the natural response to stress. Get your jogging shoes on or just put on some loud music and bounce round, bet you feel better?!
Backache trigger 6: Big boobs
Back pain is a real problem for ladies with very large breasts, which can put a strain on the upper part of the spine and neck. The upper back is very strong, it supports the ribcage and upper body, but, as with the lower back, it can become painful if there's an extra strain on the muscles. Just imagine your spine having to support all that extra weight on your chest - it's a pretty heavy job.
How to treat it
- Posture is really important for larger-breasted ladies. Make sure you're sitting properly in your chair and try to avoid hunching over, which will only put more tension on your upper back.
- Make sure you're wearing a really good bra which supports you well and doesn't pull down on the straps, making you lean forward. We recommend these best bras for big boobs.
- If you're overweight it could mean you're carrying extra weight on your chest, so now might be a good time to start that diet and exercise regime. You might find your breast size decreases once you've lost weight.
- There are products available which support the spine and help improve posture. This Shoulder Brace (opens in new tab) is particularly good for those who hunch their shoulders. It's a bit pricey, but certainly worth it if you're really suffering.
- Breast reductions are available on the NHS to women who are suffering with the size of their breasts. It's a big decision but it could vastly improve your comfort level, so talk to your GP if it's something you're interested in.
- Go and get a bra fitting by a professional, too many women wear the wrong size.
- Minimiser bras can help you if you feel self conscious of your bust size.
- Lift your chest and don't round your shoulders. Try to use your back muscles to maintain good posture; they will get stronger the more you practice.
Backache trigger 7: The kids
Being mums can often mean our backs have the biggest job of them all. All that stooping to attend to your kids, constantly bending down to pick up toys, changing nappies, wiping dirty mouths and cleaning up mess, not to mention all the lifting and carrying of the chunky little monkeys themselves, can really take its toll.
How to treat it
- Make a conscious effort to be sensible when you're bending and lifting. Always bend your knees and keep your back straight, don't stoop forward and put unnecessary tension on your back.
- Move your feet when turning to avoid awkwardly twisting your spine.
- Have highchairs adjusted high enough that you don't have to stoop, prepare things sitting at the kitchen table and make sure changing areas are high enough for you to reach easily.
- Non invasive treatments like Reflexology have been proven effective for relieving back pain.
- Gentle stretching exercises like the yoga cat pose helps strengthen the back.
- Strengthening core muscles helps to relieve the pressure on your back muscles. Try our easy exercises you can do at home.
- Always face what you are lifting and use your legs to lift, not your back.
- Breath out as you lift, this increases your abdominal muscles action and supports your back. If leaning in to a car or boot, try to put a knee on the seat or boot ledge to support you as you lean.
- Don't carry kids on your hip; hold them to your chest.
- Get them to do the work! The sooner the kids can climb into the car seat independently, or use small steps to reach the sink, the better.
Backache trigger 8: Carrying the shopping (and heavy handbags!)
We all know the sheer agony of trying to carry all those shopping bags to the car. And no matter how meticulous you are in your packing and spreading the weight throughout them, that awful strain down your neck, shoulders and arms (not to mention the hideous lacerations across your fingers) is just another reason why the weekly shop is so darn unpleasant. Here are a few things that can help make it that little bit easier.
How to treat it
- Who here's guilty of always carrying their handbag on the same side? Yep, us too. But this is a habit you should really try and snap out of as it throws your posture off balance and puts more strain on one side than the other.
- Try to pack sensibly by distributing the weight evenly throughout the bags and carrying an equal amount in both hands.
- Have the kids got their rucksacks on? How about slipping a few items into those? They won't suspect a thing...
- If you don't have to lift it, don't! Take the shopping trolley to the car, it takes a little longer but saves your back.
- Take more journeys rather than trying to carry all the shopping in one go (we have all done it!).
- Empty out your hand bag, do you really need all that stuff? We think not.
- Use a rucksack if you do have a lot to carry, or a small wheelie suitcase is great for heavy books and files.
Gemma Chandler is a lifestyle writer specialising in kids' educational media across a range of topics including nature, history, science and geography across digital, print, social media and video channels. She joined Creature & Co. at 2015, shortly becoming Digital Editor of National Geographic Kids magazine.
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