More than 30 million working days are lost every year to back problems, putting the NHS under even greater pressure. What can you do to ease the strain?
Lower back pain is the most common symptom presented to GPs in the UK. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics nearly 31 million working days are lost every year due to back pain. Treating low back pain costs the NHS in excess of £500million a year.
We asked Harley Street qualified and registered osteopath Oliver Eaton for his advice on how to reduce the causes of back pain, as well as the best treatments:
CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
Poor posture. In our busy lives the postures we adopt are often subconscious and habitual. Poor posture while sitting can cause muscles and tendons to overstrain, leaving them vulnerable to going into spasm.
Improper lifting techniques. If you lift something without bending your knees or twist while lifting, you put pressure on many of the structures in your lower back. A proper lifting technique ensures all the weight and pressure is distributed throughout your leg muscles.
Tight buttock and hamstring muscles. Your lower back is vulnerable to injury if your buttock and hamstring muscles are too tight. These muscles attach to your lower back and support it when lifting something from the floor. They also absorb the force when walking.
Poor core strength. Our core muscles are responsible for holding the spine and pelvis upright. The core also protects certain structures within the spine, like discs and ligaments, from injury. If your core muscles are weak then it can lead to too much force from a particular movement going through your lower back causing either a ligament sprain or slipped disc.
Inactivity. General lack of movement and exercise causes many of our low back muscles to lose strength and forget how to coordinate – leaving us vulnerable to injuring from simple routine movements such as getting in and out of a car.
Weak mattress. We spend a third of our lives on a mattress sleeping – depending on the sleeping position, a weak mattress can put your low back muscles under strain. You may feel comfortable as you doze off to sleep but if you are in that position for up to eight hours then it can leave muscles vulnerable to going into spasm.
Misalignments. These can be the result of limping from a previous injury, soft mattresses, repetitive movements, and even pregnancy. Misalignments of the spinal joints puts pressure on the low back muscles during every movement you make. Misalignments of the pelvis can often cause a difference in leg lengths.
Prescription or over-the-counter medications can often be effective at reducing the symptoms of low back pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Ibuprofen can help if the pain is due to any inflammation pressing against a nerve. If the pain is due to tension in the muscles tightening around the nerve then muscle relaxants such a Diazepam can help. These aren’t long-term solutions though and won’t address the root cause of your symptoms.
Heat and ice can help for both acute and chronic cases of low back pain. If the pain is due to an acute injury, straining a muscle for example, then you can use a procedure called contrast bathing; place ice or a cold compress over the low back for 10 minutes and then immediately after, place heat (hot water bottle) over the area for 10 minutes. Repeat twice an hour if needed.
Osteopathy can both identify and address the root cause of an individual’s low back pain. Several orthopaedics tests will be used to find out which structure within the low back is causing the pain. Then a combination of massage, stretching and gentle manipulation is used to help the injury repair.
Acupuncture can be helpful if the cause of an individual’s low back pain is the result of a muscle spasm or strain. Acupuncture can be effective at encouraging the spasm to release.
Massage therapy can also release spasmed muscles. Osteopathy, acupuncture and massage have all been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Both NHS and private doctors in the UK use these guidelines for appropriate treatments.
Prolozone Therapy is an advanced form of prolotherapy which has both pain relieving and regenerative properties for the structure in the low back including muscles, ligaments and tendons. It involves the injection of Medical Ozone and nutrients to cause the proliferation, regeneration and repair of muscles, tendons and ligaments where they have suffered degeneration, injury or become painful and weak.