The Pain Management Series is a free publication of the Myoflex® Pain Management Centre.
This series is written for people who suffer from conditions such as:
- Backache and neck ache.
- Muscle or joint pain resulting from injury.
Accidents, injuries and other forms of trauma account for only about 30% of backaches and neck aches. The other 70% occur as we age and our backs are subjected to routine daily activities.
Backaches affect men and women about equally, but women are more likely to suffer from back pain after the age of 60.
People who are overweight or very tall are more prone to back problems because of the additional stress and strain placed on their backs. Pregnant women and new mothers are also very prone to backache.
Coping with backache
The purpose of this section is to help you cope with backache. It offers simple tips to help you protect your back while participating in various activities around the house and at work. Inside this section you will find information about:
- How the back works.
- Causes of backaches.
- Risk factors.
- Lifestyle tips to prevent backache.
- Lifting and carrying.
- Reaching and bending.
- Planning your work area.
- Backaches, babies and new mothers.
The spine, or backbone, has three very important roles to play:
- The spine holds us upright and is the primary support structure of our bodies.
- The spine protects the vital nerves and vessels that run down our backs.
- The spine acts as a shock absorber protecting our upper body and head from impact.
Although the human spine is an amazingly strong, durable structure, years of wear and tear can lead to problems which can cause backaches.
Causes of backache
Over 95% of backaches are caused by mechanical problems, not a disease. Accidents, injuries and other forms of trauma account for only about 30% of mechanical backaches and neck aches. The other 70% occur as we age and our backs are subjected to routine daily activities.
A “Mechanical” back pain will typically have three characteristics:
- The pain is aggravated by some movements and temporarily relieved by others.
- The pain may increase while staying in a certain position and decrease with a change in position.
- The pain is intermittent.
Recent studies have shown that patients with low back pain recover more quickly if they return immediately to ordinary activity within limits permitted by the pain.
A pain in the neck, legs and buttocks
Because the spine runs right up to the head, neck aches are often caused by the same problems of the spine that affect the back.
Plus, many people are surprised to learn that pains in the legs or buttocks are actually caused by back problems.
The following factors increase your risk of suffering from back pain:
- Being overweight or unusually tall.
- Repetitive lifting or twisting.
- Lifting heavy or awkward objects.
- Regular exposure to vibrations caused by heavy. Machinery or vehicles.
- If you are pregnant or a new mother.
Lifestyle tips to prevent backache
People who have already experienced a flare–up of backache are ten times more likely to have pain again. However, the following lifestyle tips will help you avoid that initial flare–up of backache or reduce the chances of a recurrence.
Exercise and fitness
A regular program of aerobic, strength and flexibility exercises will keep your back healthy. Stay within your own limits to avoid injury, especially if you have already had back problems.
Posture and body mechanics
Your mother was right, good posture is important. When sitting, select a chair that allows both feet to touch the floor with knees slightly higher than the hips. Sit firmly, well back in the chair, so that your buttocks are touching the back of the chair and don’t slouch!
Walk upright with your head high and chin tucked in. Raise your chest, keep your pelvis forward, tighten your stomach muscles and point your toes straight ahead.
Good nutrition and diet
Watch your diet, particularly fatty foods, to help control weight. A good balanced diet will provide the nutrients needed to maintain general health and will ensure that you get enough calcium to keep bones healthy.
Stress management and rest
Backache can be triggered by tense muscles brought on by emotional stress. Learn to manage stress and you can reduce your risk of back pain flare–ups. Stretching exercises, walking, swimming, deep breathing and yoga are great “Stress–busters”.
Rest is also very important. Never push yourself to the point of exhaustion, take frequent breaks when performing physical tasks and get plenty of sleep.
Although the reasons are not fully understood, clinical studies have shown a direct correlation between smoking cigarettes and back problems.
Lifting and carrying
Improper lifting and carrying is one of the most common triggers of back problems.
Whether you are a construction worker carrying heavy loads of building materials or a homemaker unloading groceries from your car, you need to know how to lift properly to avoid damaging your back.
Check to ensure that you will have good footing while lifting and that the route you will use is clear of obstacles.
Never lift an object that is too heavy for you – get help.
Position your feet and body as close as possible to the object to be lifted. If necessary, slide the object toward you before lifting.
Bend your knees
Bend down to the object using your knees, never lean over the object by bending your back.
Lift straight up
Lift the object to your waist using your legs to do the work with your back as straight and vertical as possible. Use a smooth, even motion.
Don’t do the twist
Never turn by twisting your spine while carrying a load. Turn by moving your feet while keeping your back and head facing straight ahead.
Carry up close or on the shoulder
Carry heavy objects close to your body or put them up on your shoulder.
Put down with care
Don’t get careless when putting the object down. Bend your knees and keep your back straight – basically just reverse the same steps as proper lifting.
Special back support belts are available for jobs that require frequent, heavy lifting.
Reaching and bending
Avoid prolonged stretching and reaching while working over your head or stooping and bending to while working down low.
Avoid bending while cleaning bathrooms, floors, stoves, etc., by using long–handled brushes, sponges and mops.
Backaches, babies and new mothers
Caution: If you are pregnant or nursing, consult a physician before using any drug, including aspirin and myoflex.
Pregnant women and new mothers are prone to backaches for two reasons. First, additional stress is put on the back by carrying an unborn baby, delivering, and lifting and carrying a newborn baby.
Second, hormones are released during the latter stages of pregnancy which cause a relaxing of joints. The back is more susceptible to problems caused by twisting and bending during this period.
Bending over to bathe a baby in the bathtub can put excessive stress on the back. Instead, try using the laundry tub or kitchen sink, both of which are higher, or get into the bathtub yourself to bathe the baby.
Avoid the temptation to slouch forward over the baby while breast feeding. Once feeding begins, sit up straight and follow the rules for good posture. Try using pillows on your lap to support the baby.
For mothers who are experiencing particularly painful back problems, consider getting a light–weight stroller to use indoors to carry the baby.
Talk to your doctor about special exercises that can help relieve backaches during pregnancy.