With so much information at our fingertips these days, looking after our health can be confusing.
As an osteopath, part of my job is to help people navigate this landscape (or ‘minefield’, depending on your level of confusion!) of information and help them on their health journey.
Today I’m going to run through some of the most common questions I get asked related to back health.
- What mattress should I use?
The answer to this question is so simple, you’ll kick yourself for ever having questioned it. Here goes…
Whichever mattress feels the most comfortable!
It doesn’t have to be memory foam, but it could be. It could have springs, or have a topper on it. Try them out, and the one that is the most comfortable is the one for you. Comfort is your brain’s way of saying, ‘that works for me, pick that one!’.
My only piece of advice when it comes to buying a new mattress is to choose one that has a trial. Many come with a 30, 40 or even 100-day trial now, so choose a brand that offers this before you invest.
We must also remember that many neck and back problems ache more during the night and first thing in the morning, it’s just the nature of them. If you are experiencing this, I always say, ‘fix your back before you blame your mattress’. A healthy spine can sleep anywhere.
- How many pillows should I use?
Much like the answer above, it comes down to whatever’s the most comfortable. Don’t buy into the idea of needing to keep your spine perfectly straight. Adverts keep popping up on my Facebook feed selling the ‘perfect’ pillow that keeps your spine precisely aligned. It’s a myth! You don’t need it.
Even when you are asleep, your brain has enough awareness to move you when things become uncomfortable. We move anywhere between 40 and 70 times a night, so even if you start with a perfectly straight spine, you’re not going to stay there!
Most people just need one pillow that feels comfortable to them. Some people with flexed upper backs or really broad shoulders may want two, but let comfort be your guide. Don’t worry about the fancy adverts that tell you about spine alignment, just do what works for you.
- Should I exercise through pain?
In the clinic, we treat many people who are passionate about their sport and exercise. When they come in with injury, their first question is often, ‘when can I get back to training?’.
Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases, the answer is straight away.
There are a few caveats though, and it’s important to follow them. It’s well documented that movement helps us heal (regular readers of mine can parrot my mantra, ‘movement is medicine, motion is the lotion!’), but you must be a bit careful when injured.
My rule is, if it doesn’t cause pain at the time, or cause more ache after training, you’re good to go. If, however, you feel acute, ‘catching’ pain with exercise, or it makes you ache a lot after training, you know you’ve crossed the line.
Depending on how severe your injury, or what stage of recovery you’re in, will dictate how much you have to adapt your normal training routine. I treat some people who are in acute pain but still manage to do some gentle exercise, it just has to be regressed a lot from what they normally do. People who have more mild niggles can almost do their normal workouts with only a few small adjustments.
Seeing an osteopath not only gets you better faster with our hands-on treatment, but we also offer advice so that you can feel safe that you can get back to training quickly and safely.
- Does clicking in my joints cause arthritis?
Thankfully, no. As one piece of information taken on its own, clicking is really nothing to worry about. Some people are just clicky! It’s most likely little pockets of gas being created within a joint, or sliding surfaces of connective tissue unsticking from each other. It can sound weird, but it’s nothing to worry about.
If you have clicking and pain however, that’s worth getting checked out, but this doesn’t happen very often.
- What’s the best sitting and desk posture?
The research is very clear on this; there is no such thing as a perfect sitting or desk posture, you just have to vary your position as much as you can.
Getting up from a chair regularly is by far the most helpful thing you can do to look after your joints if you have a desk job or find yourself sitting at home a lot. Our bodies crave movement. Weight-bearing movement squishes fluid in and out of joints which brings nutrients and clears waste. It helps unstick our connective tissues and it sends neurological information up to our brains.
Often, when I explain this, people say, ‘yeah, but slouching is bad though, right?’. And my answer is, ‘not necessarily’. I tell my patients to implement something I call ‘systemised fidgeting’. It’s okay to slouch for a little while, as long as you counter it by sitting up nice and straight. You can sit twisted slightly to the left, as long as you then spin so you are twisted to the right. You can have your legs stretched out, but then spend some time with them tucked right underneath you.
The worst thing is to have a ‘habit’. If you sit in the same position day in day out, that’s what can turn into a problem over time, so embrace the fidget!
The list of questions could go on and on, but that’s enough for one day. If you have a specific question about physical health that you would like answered in these pages, always feel free to email [email protected]