lower back pain

The statistics say that 80% of us will experience lower back pain in our lifetime, which is a lot, but I’m sure it must be more!

Maybe I have a skewed perspective of reality because I’m an osteopath – everyone I see has (or had) a problem, the healthy ones don’t end up in the clinic! But either way, many of you readers will have had some experience with back pain, either acutely (which lasts days or weeks), or chronically (which lasts months or more).

Pain is a funny thing and it can play tricks with your mind. Today, I’m going to give you 5 tips to manage acute lower back pain so that when injury strikes, you are able to stay calm and accelerate your recovery.

Tip #1: Don’t Panic! Lower back pain doesn’t last forever

When acute pain strikes, your brain can feel like the scene in Airplane! where they’re told not to panic. Your thoughts go into overdrive wondering how long the pain will last, will it be forever, are you going to be able to enjoy your hobbies again, will it get worse? And on and on.

The thing to remember is that these thoughts are entirely normal and go hand in hand with acute lower back pain. When an injury occurs, your immune system goes through a cycle that lasts a few days and can be incredibly painful, but it doesn’t last forever.

Pay attention to your thoughts, let them go, and move on to taking positive steps like the ones below.

Tip #2: Keep moving! Movement is your lower back’s friend 🙂

Our intuitions tell us that pain is there to let our brain know about tissue damage happening in the body, but this is not strictly true. Pain is there to change your behaviour. So yes, when you are in pain, you will walk differently, you will be slower, you will make different choices with your body so the pain doesn’t strike, but this doesn’t mean the pain is a bad thing.

Pain will catch you out from time to time, often unexpectedly, but it’s not your body’s way of saying that more damage is happening, it’s just reminding you that you are not quite ready for that movement pattern yet. Your body will find a new way to complete the task instead. (I’ve seen some very creative ways of putting one’s shoes on in the clinic!)

Even if things hurt, it’s still very helpful to keep moving. All sorts of amazing things happen, even when you are going for a slow walk. The gentle ambulation massages and nourishes the muscles, joints and connective tissues and it sends helpful neurological information up to the brain.

You know what I always say; movement is medicine and motion is the lotion!

Tip #3: Stretch the hips and shoulders to help your lower back

When you are in pain, it is human nature to focus on the painful area. But you are a complex machine and all your moving parts talk to each other. You have networks of muscle criss-crossing your body. By stretching the hips and shoulders, you will help to release some of the tension that builds up due to the lower back pain.

Stretching other parts of your body is often easier than stretching where it hurts, but it will still have direct and positive results. Many of our hip muscles also attach to the lower back, and so do some of our shoulder muscles. Stretching these can ease the pain without stressing the lower back.

Head over to our YouTube channel for some ideas on where to get started.

Tip #4: Heat or ice? What’s the best treatment for your lower back?

This question confuses everyone, and to be honest, I never give a clear, single answer either! The research keeps flip-flopping, but the current thinking is that icing an injury can be helpful for the first day or so, then use heat. This is because inflammation isn’t the baddie we once thought, but it is an essential part of the healing response. Ice blocks the production of inflammation which may not be helping things, whereas heat improves blood flow which helps your body drain it away once it’s done its thing.

However, I have some patients who love icing their injuries. In those cases, I don’t stop them! There may be other reasons why it helps them, ranging from neurological pain-blocking effects to just the psychological placebo-type effect.

And vice versa, some people love the calming, soothing effect of heat. If that’s you, then go for it.

Either way, ice or heat, the point of them is to help you move more freely and more confidently. Movement is the true medicine.

Tip #5: Seek help! An osteopath can treat your lower back pain

The majority of low back pain episodes get better fairly quickly, but seeing someone like an osteopath does two main things; firstly, it will get you better faster so that you can get back to all the fun things in your life. Secondly, it will help you understand why the problem happened and how to build a plan so it doesn’t happen again. This may involve some lifestyle changes or some exercises to help improve your body’s function.

There are people out there to help you with anything in life, it just so happens this is the sort of thing an osteopath can help with!

Here is a video to get you started with a basic lower back exercise. It should feel ‘nice’, so don’t do it if it causes any pain.

Lower back pain is likely to affect most of us at some point in our life.

If you have any questions about it, you can see more about how our osteopaths can help you here, and please feel free to email [email protected], or call for a chat if you have any other questions 01245 522360.

We also have an online booking system to book an appointment direct.

See our back pain page for more information.

Fitness can be broadly split into three categories: cardio, strength and flexibility. It’s not quite as simple as that, but that covers the bases.

 

Cardio

As a teen, I had the cardio one covered. I did not stop. Early morning swimming training, badminton every lunchtime, running most evenings, football training a couple of times a week, cycling to see mates … my heart and lungs were sorted!

However, I was no Arnold Schwarzenegger. Having had the rapid growth of a boy destined to be 6’ 2”, my arms and legs were more spaghetti than penne. I was not exactly what you would call ‘strong’.

And if you asked me to touch my toes? I’d be lucky to get past my knees. My muscles felt like lead wires, creaking under the tension. But, I was 16, so I didn’t care.

 

Strength

However, at that age, the testosterone kicks in. Suddenly, the reflection in the mirror with the spaghetti arms was not good enough, so I did what a lot of young men do and I went to the shop, bought a magazine on weightlifting, read it cover to cover and went and lifted weights.

My mates and I became mildly obsessed with this hobby and over time we added a couple of stone to our skinny frames and strength started to take hold.

However, as I’m sure you can imagine, we weren’t exactly into the stretching side of things. By prioritising strength (actually, by prioritising biceps) our bodies had become immobile lumps of meat. Despite looking athletic, we couldn’t really move!

This model of training worked for a time, while the testosterone was raging at least. But then something strange started to happen. I started to get injured. Through my twenties, I would have fairly common joint pain.

It didn’t make sense to me – I thought I was fit! But as I trained to be an osteopath, and did further study into biomechanics after my degree, my obsession with the reflection in the mirror dwindled and it switched to freedom of movement.

 

Flexibility

Whereas previously I cared about the circumference of my biceps, my focus shifted to how well I could move in the space around me.

In my training, I asked my body questions like:

  • How well can I get up and down from the floor?
  • Can I reach my hands down to the floor, up over my head and behind me?
  • How clean do my hips feel?

Initially, the answers weren’t good! But I’ve had these questions as my main focus for about 5 years now and the transformation has been incredible.

 

A Blended Approach

My point of this story is that I have been through stages in my life where I have had good levels of all three forms of fitness, and I can honestly say the flexibility is the one that feels the best.

Obviously, it’s not all or nothing. By having one form of fitness, it doesn’t mean you have to ignore the others, and I still think it’s super important to have enough strength to cope with life and we should do some cardio from time to time. But day to day, the feeling of being able to move in my own body and through the space around me trumps the other two.

 

So, this begs the question, what’s the best way to stretch?

In my ten years of practice as an osteopath, I have researched many different styles of stretching. When I say ‘style’, I am not talking about Pilates vs Yoga. Both of them are excellent forms of exercise that bring many other health benefits than just flexibility. By ‘style’, I mean the sort of stimulus one is putting through the muscle.

Research changes over time and one style will become very ‘in vogue’ for a while, then it will be discredited and another one takes its place. I have become a bit bored with it all because I have discovered in both my own body and in that of my patients that there is only one thing that works:

 

CONSISTENCY.

 

Static vs dynamic, passive vs loaded, isolated vs functional – it doesn’t matter if you don’t do it consistently!

I have started to think about flexibility training in very simple terms. It is merely the practice of getting your body more comfortable in moving through the space around you. The only way to do this is to test yourself most days.

 

If you are currently feeling inflexible and don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! It has never been easier to get information thanks to YouTube. Type in “beginner stretching routine” and fill your boots. Just five minutes a day is a very powerful thing. Make it a habit and it becomes effortless. Eventually, it even becomes enjoyable!

Slowly, over time, you will gain freedom in your movement and you will notice fewer niggles. It’s a wonderful feeling!

If you want any ideas we have videos on our Facebook page and Youtube channel.

Get stretching, reclaim your movement, and have a healthy month!

Our shoulder is the most mobile joint in our body. A remnant from our tree-swinging ancestors, now it’s a joint that enables us to use our dextrous hands as the brilliant tools that they are.

If our shoulder is out of action, life suddenly becomes quite hard! Manipulating the space around us with our hands becomes much more difficult and we realise that our shoulder plays a role in pretty much everything we do. Even laying on them when we sleep can become a problem!

What Is ‘Frozen Shoulder’?

One of the more debilitating shoulder injuries is the so-called ‘Frozen Shoulder’. All the joints in our body have a bag around them called the ‘capsule’ which holds in the fluid. The capsule of the shoulder has folds in it like a curtain so that when we reach our arms overhead the capsule can stretch. In a frozen shoulder, the folds become sticky and inflamed and can be incredibly painful when you reach up. Movement becomes limited and the hand can barely be lifted above waist-height.

Frozen shoulders mostly occur between the ages of 45 to 60 and are more common in women than in men, but this is just a guide because I have seen them in many demographics.

They normally come on after an injury like a fall or an unexpected reach, like catching a falling glass, for example. What normally happens is that the shoulder aches for a bit after the incident which the patient thinks is normal, but then it continues to tighten up over the next few weeks and doesn’t seem to improve.

The Mind/Body Link

The really interesting thing about frozen shoulder is the link with the mind. This was summarised beautifully by one of my mentors when he said simply, “animals don’t get frozen shoulders”.

When we look at the difference in the stress response of humans and other animals, it’s got nothing to do with the chemistry that goes on in our body – that’s the same. The major difference is the time we suffer for. Animals fight, prey, chase, run, but then they go back to their life. Humans have bills, relationships, colleagues and rush hour traffic to contend with and our stress response can last months or years.

The link between our mind and our body is still not fully understood by science, but there is certainly a known correlation with problems like frozen shoulder and stress.

How To Treat It?

With this in mind (excuse the pun), what do we do about it?

Well, frozen shoulders have three phases known as ‘freezing, frozen and thawing‘ which relate to what is happening to the capsule and how much inflammation there is. The rehab and exercises needed in each phase are different so it’s important to have a clear diagnosis and make sure you are not doing something that will exacerbate the problem.

Minimising Stress

I also speak to my patients about managing lifestyle stress. Our body can’t speak to us in words, just symptoms, and something like a frozen shoulder can be our body’s way of saying “slow down”. Take note of the stressors in your life and see if you can minimise them. Maybe there’s a conversation you need to have with a loved one, or you may need to ask for help in your work or you might be doing everything for everyone else but not have any “me time”.

This may sound strange that there is such a strong correlation between stress and frozen shoulders, but I have yet to find an example where this isn’t true.

If you have a frozen shoulder, firstly deal with the mechanics by seeing a specialist who can tell you what phase you’re in and give the correct exercises for your stage of the injury. But you also need to look after your mind. Take time each day to relax – mindfulness meditation is the best form of this using an app like Headspace.

Ask yourself, “what is my body trying to tell me?”, because if you are honest and really listen, you will know the answer.

Get In Touch

If you need help with a frozen shoulder and want to take a holistic view, get in touch at [email protected] or you can call on 01245 522360 – we are here to help.

Have a healthy month!