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Myths of Back Pain (Revisited)

Just over a year ago I wrote an article for this magazine titled ‘The Myths of Back Pain’. In it, I discussed how it is okay to twist and bend despite all the health and safety advice, why you should be lifting heavy weights as part of your general health and exercise model, and why training to get a six-pack could be doing more harm than good.

In the clinic, I still hear people worrying about these things and I wanted to address some other common myths that crop up on an all-too-regular basis.

First, a quick recap…

 

Myth #1: Lifting heavy weights is bad

People often think heavy lifting is bad for the spine, but the research is quite clear that strength is a key player in the prevention of back pain. In order to get strong, lifting weights can be helpful, but it’s not necessary. If you don’t want to go to a gym, using your own body as a weight might be the answer. Certain movements in yoga and Pilates can be really tough! This sort of strength is good because it teaches you how to control your own body.

 

Myth #2: You shouldn’t bend and twist

Whenever people say they avoid bending and twisting, I think, ‘but you’re a human’! You should see the amazing anatomy we have interlacing through our body, specifically designed to perform at its best in a bend and twist.

Research has shown that those who limit their movements when reaching in the space around them are more likely to have back pain. Those who have more variability in their system have a lower incidence of pain.

 

Myth #3: Training your core prevents back pain

This myth specifically relates to movements like the sit-up which try to isolate the abs in an attempt to get the elusive six-pack. The evidence shows that doing too much of this type of training makes it more likely you will have back pain.

Of course, it is helpful to have strong core muscles, but they should be trained in a dynamic and integrated way that includes the hips and shoulder muscles. This helps build strength and control throughout the whole body.

 

So, onto the new ones.

The next myth is the most common one I encounter and it’s one I really want to nip in the bud:

 

Myth #4: If you have pain now you will have pain forever

This idea can be quite scary for people. When you have pain, it’s easy to think it will last forever or will get worse over time, but the vast majority of problems get better.

Pain is common after a certain age, but it’s not normal. Phrases in our language like, ‘it’s all downhill from forty’, or ‘it’s my age’ keep the candle of myth burning.

Rather than blame age, I prefer to blame habits. As long as we are alive our body has the ability to change. This is a process known as BIOPLASTICITY. Our body changes in response to a given stimulus, particularly the ones we do the most often.

So what stimulus are you giving your body? If it is a stimulus of a sedentary lifestyle, high carb diet and lack of stretching, your body’s response to that will be to tighten up and have pain.

If, however, the stimuli you give your body include a healthy diet to nourish the cells and regular stretching and exercise to gently and progressively test your body’s limits, it doesn’t matter what your age is, your body will respond positively.

 

Myth #5: Rest helps the back

When you are in pain, rest can feel the right thing to do. After all, moving hurts! The problem is, rest doesn’t accelerate healing, movement does.

In the clinic we use a couple of silly phrases; ‘movement is medicine‘ and my personal favourite, ‘motion is the lotion‘. Each time we take a step, our body creates a pump to draw in nutrients and squish away waste. This helps our immune system do its thing and create healing.

Sure, you should avoid sharp pain, but do as much as you can to keep mobile when injured.

 

All of this advice comes with the caveat that if you are worried about an injury you have, you should seek professional advice. Seeing someone like an osteopath would help you create an individualised plan to figure out the problem and get you back on the road to health.

If you would like to ask our team of osteopaths any questions, please get in touch by calling 01245 522360 or take a look around the rest of our website.

Yours in health! 🙂

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Back Pain On Holiday

Imagine the panic. You’re taking a well-deserved rest away on holiday. The sun is beating down and that makes your crisp, cold drink taste all the better.

Then, seemingly out the blue, your back goes. No! You’re in a foreign country, not sure how to get the care you need, but most importantly, the pain takes the enjoyment out the holiday.

At this time of year, I hear this story a lot in the clinic. But fear not, trusty reader, I will give you a few tips to prevent the dreaded woes of holiday back pain. By following these tips, you should keep the pain away and make the most of your time off.

 

Sun loungers

Remember, most sun loungers are designed to stack well, not to look after your back. I have rarely found a well-designed lounger which offers the correct support.

The other major problem with sunbathing is that it is so abnormal for us to lay down for that amount of time during the day! We often think pain is caused by DOING something, but very commonly I see injury caused by NOT DOING.

The extra rest we take on holiday can actually do us harm. Get up, walk and stretch regularly.

 

Flip flops

Wearing flip-flops can tighten the plantar fascia (the connective tissue under our feet) and lead to tight calves, hamstrings and hips (we call this the ‘posterior chain’).

This lack of flexibility through the posterior chain can leave your back vulnerable to injury. People with tight posterior chains often have their back ‘go’ with seemingly innocuous movements, like bending down to brush their teeth or pick a small object up from the floor.

It confuses them because it seems such a simple movement when actually, their back has been overloaded by the lack of flexibility in the legs and hips.

 

Hydration

It’s super important to stay hydrated in hot countries, especially if there are a few extra alcoholic drinks thrown into the mix.

Being dehydrated can reduce tissue health and leave us prone to injury.

 

Sudden increases in activity

If lounging around the pool isn’t your thing and you prefer to trek up mountains and take in the views, make sure you do some training beforehand.

I’ve said many times that it is ‘contrast’ that is the biggest cause of pain. If you have been busy in the office and haven’t had time to train, then you go ploughing up mountains your body probably won’t thank you.

 

What to do if you are in pain?

If the worst happens and you do end up injured on holiday, my advice is always the same.

Try to move little and often. We follow the “Goldilocks Rule”. Move too little, you will tighten up. Move too much, it can make the pain worse.

A simple rule of thumb is that if you are injured you should break your day into twenty-minute chunks. After sitting for twenty minutes, get up, move, walk, give your hips a little wiggle and stretch. After twenty minutes of that, put your feet up by the pool again.

The latest research is saying that it is helpful to use an ice pack for 20 minutes at a time every couple of hours, but only in the first day after the injury. After the first 24 hours, use heat and stay mobile.

 

And of course, when you get back on home turf, get booked in with your local osteopath to get you on the mend and ready to face normality. Or, if you are feeling tight before you go, prevention is always better than cure and a treatment or two can help you make the most of your well-earned rest.

As always, we at Forté Physical Health are here to help and you can get in touch at [email protected] or call 01245 522 360. And if you want ideas for flexibility exercises, click these links to our Facebook page and YouTube channel.

 

Have a healthy month!

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Come Out of Hibernation Slowly to Prevent Back Pain!

Change of Seasons

Every day, as I walk around the plinth treating my patients, I look up through the window and see the tops of the trees.

Listening to my patients’ stories, learning from them and laughing with them, and seeing the gradual change of the seasons outside, it makes me happy.

As I sit here writing this on a Monday morning, the tree closest to me has sprung to life with beautiful white blossom, which wasn’t there when I finished for the week on Saturday.

It’s such a vibrant and fast-changing time of year which gives us all a lift. When the days get longer and the sun starts to shine, we get out in the garden, get back on our bikes, and dust off our running shoes.

This movement is good for our bodies and the fresh air is good for our soul.

Be Careful – We Have Been Hibernating!

However, I want you to have a little Chris sitting on your shoulder saying ‘be careful’! This time of year is when we see a lot of injuries to the back caused by doing too much too soon.

We have been hibernating, snuggling into our wooly jumpers and nursing our hot chocolates (or nice winter ales if you’re anything like me!) for the last few months, and it takes the body a while to kick back into gear.

It doesn’t cross most peoples’ minds to warm up before, say, doing the gardening, but it’s essential, especially for the first few times. Our muscles and joints stiffen when they’ve not been used much, and our nervous system needs to be ‘reminded’ of the movements it once did.

Take It Easy

Spending a few minutes twisting, bending and reaching to loosen up will do you a huge favour. Be mindful and mentally ‘check in’ with how your body feels and for the first few sessions take it easier than you think you need to. If you’re on the bike, take it slow. If you’re in the garden, take more breaks than you feel you need. If you’re doing the spring clean, rope in the family to help with the lifting.

This is always a time of year where my phone becomes very busy in the clinic, so to avoid being one of those callers, take a little bit of time to get your body ready for the task at hand. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference.

Get in Touch

If you feel completely stuck and don’t know where to start when it comes to stretching, we put out lots of videos on our Facebook page giving you some ideas, so check us out at facebook.com/fortephysicalhealth, and as always, we love to chat so if you have any questions, give us a call at 01245 522360 and ask for Chris.

Have a healthy month!