Back Care week is back. And about time too. Because while back pain might be easy to overlook as a bit of a niggle, it has become one of the nation’s most debilitating and common conditions.
So much so, in fact, that the NHS estimates that in just one year, up to 7.6 million working days are lost in the UK due to work-related back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders.
A growing problem
“Back pain is becoming remarkably common among office workers, and others who sit all day,” agrees Tim Allardyce, physiotherapist and clinical director at Surrey Physio.
“It’s estimated that 60% of the population will suffer an episode of back pain, with some studies suggesting this could be higher.”
Sitting on a time bomb
It will continue to get higher too, thanks to our increasingly sedentary lives.
“With the advance of technology, we are leaving our bodies at risk of suffering with chronic spinal pain. The main reason for this is that our bodies are designed to move, to stay flexible, and are not suited to sitting long hours,” says Allardyce.
Made to last?
Gary Jones, clinical director and physiotherapist at Six Physio (sixphysio.com), adds some other reasons for the increase in incidences of back pain.
“We are all living longer. Most of us change our cars at regular intervals, but we only have one spine that needs to keep us mobile for a long time!
“The demands that we put on the discs, joints and muscles on a day-to-day basis certainly have an effect over time,” he says.
“Whether that is sitting for long periods at a desk with a poor posture, or poor lifting techniques in a manual job, the spine and its surrounding musculature are put under a lot of stress.”
Is there anything we can do?
“Back pain is like the common cold and if you've had it once, the likelihood is that it will reoccur at some point in your life,” says Jones.
But don’t worry, that’s it for the depressing news. Because despite the challenges of back pain, despite the unavoidable worsening factors of work and age, there is still some hope.
Tip 1: Ditch email
“My first tip to ease back pain, especially at work in an office, is to get up out of your chair every 30 minutes for a two-minute walk. Use any excuse to get up; go grab a water, go and talk to a colleague rather than email them,” advises Allardyce.
Tip 2: Move more
Secondly, there is the advice we’re given for pretty much everything – and for good reason; exercise. “If you sit down all day, you probably then travel home sitting, and then sit down to eat your dinner before sitting on the sofa to watch TV, make sure you get out of that habit and do some exercise!” stresses Allardyce. “Swim twice a week, walk regularly, and cycle once a week to get the spine more mobile and your core muscles stronger.”
Tip 3: Sit pretty
“It’s also important to make sure you set your computer station up correctly. Place the screen at the correct height – the upper third of the screen should be at eye level, make sure your hips and knees are at 90 degrees, and don’t use a laptop where you can avoid it. If you don’t follow these things, you will be over-flexing your spine, and susceptible to lower back disc problems.”