This week, 3rd-8th October is Back Care Awareness Week. The charity BackCare has chosen to focus this year on back pain in carers. Carers are more likely than the rest of us to be affected by back pain. According to BackCare, about 70% of carers suffer from back pain. However, knowing how to protect your back and making sure you look after yourself can help to keep your back in good shape.
- Make sure you look after your back on a day-to-day basis and ensure that you get adequate breaks and days off from caring. Remember you are no good to the people who are dependent on you if you are unable to care for them owing to back pain!
- If you hurt your back, it is important to get good pain relief in the early stages: this will make it less likely that you will develop chronic pain (ie pain lasting more than three months).
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Being tired will make your pain worse.
- Take regular exercise. This will help to keep your back strong and will reduce the intensity of the pain if you do hurt your back. Exercise also has benefits for other health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.
- If you have hurt your back, be sure to pace yourself: break tasks into small chunks lasting between five and 30 minutes and take rests between the chunks. However it is not helpful to lie down for long periods of time.
Training and practical help
Watch your posture
Just being aware of how you are sitting and standing can help to improve your posture. You should stand upright with your head facing forward and your back straight, but relaxed. Try to keep your shoulders above your pelvis, rather than in front or behind it. When sitting, make sure you are upright, with your feet flat on the floor or on a footstool.
If you already have back problems, it doesn’t have to stop you being active. In fact some activity always helps improve back pain. Exercise which focuses on flexibility, such as yoga or tai-chi can be beneficial. Swimming, pilates, walking, running and cycling can all help to strengthen your back. If you aren’t able to do a regular sport, try walking or cycling instead of using the car for short journeys, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. If it’s been a long time since you’ve exercised, discuss it with your GP first, especially if you have any health problems.
If you are suffering from acute back pain, your first line of attack would be to use a cold pack or a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. Hold the ice pack against the painful part of your back for 10-15 minutes. Try to keep active, as moving around helps to reduce inflammation and prevent stiffness developing. Take whatever pain relief you know is safe for you. Not everyone can tolerate anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, but there are alternatives. If you are unsure about pain relief speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
If treated in the early (acute) stages, ie less than six weeks, back pain usually resolves fairly quickly. However if it persists for more than 12 weeks and becomes chronic, back pain may cause long-term problems. It is important to inform your GP of any back pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist, but if you don’t want to wait for a physiotherapy referral you might want to try osteopathy. The osteopath will offer both hands-on treatment and advice about good back care and suitable exercise.
Tissue injuries usually heal within 12 weeks, so if back pain has become chronic (ie has lasted more than three months), then we must assume that the pain is being maintained by other processes. These include stress, anxiety and a poor understanding of how pain works. If you would like to know more about pain mechanisms, please check out my blog post on pain.
For more information please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 01234 409538.
Sorrel Pindar, Registered Osteopath