Back problems plague most adults but how can you keep aches in check?

Back pain has reached epidemic proportions – it’s estimated that around 4.9 million work days are lost to the condition each year in the UK alone, at a cost of around £5 billion if you tot up hospital care, effects on business and the overall economy.

But forget statistics, when your back is playing up all you want is relief from the pain that’s likely to be making it hard to sit, stand, walk or lie down in any comfort. Worst of all, unless you’ve got a long-standing spine problem like a slipped disc, it’s often hard to pin down exactly what caused your back to ‘go’.
Here are three areas to consider if you want to beat back pain for good.


Chairs and desks
Your workstation is the place most likely to be causing you problems, partly because you spend so much time there, but also because when you’re concentrating on your work, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’re hunching over your desk or twisting to see your work. Set yourself up for success by making sure your forearms and thighs are parallel to the ground, with your shins, upperarms and back on the perpendicular – you’ll probably need to adjust your chair and desk height to achieve this, and you may need a footstool too.

Ergonomic chairs are a must for long-term sufferers – consult a specialist company, and don’t assume that those weird-looking ‘kneeling’ stools are the only option, a good ‘office’ chair with the right adjustable fittings will be fine.


Posture
It’s a vicious circle – a bad back makes you stand awkwardly as you try to find a comfortable position, then that posture becomes a habit, setting up more back problems for the future.

Get an expert to assess your posture – an osteopath or chiropractor will give you lots of useful feedback, or you might want to try the Alexander Technique, which can retrain you to keep your spine in the best possible balance as you perform daily actions like walking and sitting. Find out more at www.stat.org.uk (the website of The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique).

Then use exercises to strengthen your core which will create a supportive framework of muscles to protect your back from strain. Pilates is excellent for this as it’s all about ‘core’ strength so there’s no risk of over-exercising and causing further damage. For more information about Pilates go to Pilates Foundation (UK) or Find Pilates (Ireland) where you can also see if there are classes local to you. There are also some really useful exercises and other tips at www.backcare.org.uk (BackCare is a charity supporting back health).


Beds and shoes
As the much-used saying goes, if you’re not in one, you’re in the other. Both beds and shoes can cause terrible back problems if you choose the wrong ones, so it’s worth investing time and care in getting them right.
A bad back doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of sleeping on a plank – in fact an over-hard mattress can do more harm than good – but it’s essential that your bed gives you firm support and doesn’t sag or tilt. Old houses often have uneven floors, so it’s worth getting the spirit level out to see if your bed is completely flat and adjusting the legs if necessary, otherwise gravity will be pulling you out of alignment all night while you sleep.