Back to basics

One in three of us suffers from back pain at some point, but it doesn’t have to be that way says expert Cabella Lowe

Hours hunched over your desk at work, not warming up properly before exercise, slouching in front of the TV… sound familiar? Almost all of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives – it usually feels like an ache, tension or stiffness, and can be triggered by sitting badly, bending awkwardly, or lifting incorrectly. Pain is most common in the lower back, although it can be felt anywhere along your spine, from your neck down to your hips. One in three people in the UK suffers from lower back pain, and though most will get better within 12 weeks and do not need specialist treatment, it is still best to take preventative steps to avoid it.


”In the past, doctors advised rest for back pain but most experts now agree that long periods of inactivity are actually bad for you,” says Cabella Lowe, professional head of physiotherapy at Nuffield Health. “Back pain can be improved, or even prevented, by doing some gentle, regular activity.” Cabella gives her top tips for avoiding back pain below. If the pain is more serious and permanent, a detailed investigation can be made into finding the cause of the ongoing problem by using a scanner which produces a 3D image showing any areas of instability or curvature.


  • Before gardening or DIY… Do some warming up exercises. Remember to always work within your limits and take regular breaks.
  • If you wear high heels… Try to only wear them when necessary. Walking in high heels can tilt your pelvis too far forward and place unnecessary strain on your lower back.
  • Beware the ironing… Most people have their ironing board too low. Make sure it is at waist height to minimise back strain.
  • When driving… All controls should be within easy reach. If your vehicle has any lumbar support, adjust this to provide a gentle pressure against the lowest part of your back. If your seat lacks support, try using a lumbar roll.


We spend nearly one-third of our lives sleeping, so it’s important to look at your sleep environment and posture. These tips can help reduce the development or occurrence of back pain:

  • Sleeping on your side… This position leaves your upper leg unsupported, and the top knee and thigh tend to rest on the mattress. This rotates the lower spine and may contribute to back pain. Place a pillow between your knees and thighs to prevent.
  • Sleeping on your back… Placing a pillow under your knees can help maintain the natural curve of your lower back. A small rolled towel under the small of your back may also help. You should support your neck with a pillow.
  • Sleeping on your stomach… Can be particularly hard on your back. If this is the only way you can sleep, you can reduce back strain by placing a pillow under your hips and lower abdomen. If a pillow under your head places too much strain on your back, try not using one.
Boxout: For more information on the Nuffield Health Fitness and Wellbeing Centres visit