Want to be active and get fit but suffering from low back pain? Stephan Huber, Chief Medical Officer at Kaia Health, has these tips on coping with low back pain.
Some 80 per cent of the UK population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. According to the Office for National Statistics, back pain accounted for almost 31 million days of work lost in 2013, which cost the UK economy £14bn annually. If you’re trying to lose weight, get fit and generally feel healthier, back pain can be debilitating.
What are some of the most common causes of low back pain?
Experts assume that as much as 85-90 per cent of people who experience low back pain have no specific underlying cause – this is referred to as ‘unspecific back pain’. The pain these people experience is very real – it is just that upon even close examination there is no apparent change to the spine or back that may explain why the person is having pain. It is assumed that the causes could be muscle sprains, local irritations of the spinal nerves or the fascia (connective tissue beneath the skin), among other things.
Why is too much sitting bad for our backs?
As humans, we have inherited our spine from our ancestors. This means that, during its developmental history, it was not specifically made for walking upright or sitting as these postures have been learned only comparatively late during development. On the other hand, our sedentary lifestyle means we spend a long time sitting or standing in static postures which means that our back is not exposed to sufficient changes of posture and movement. Many structures of our back, like its muscles or the vertebral discs, have problems coping with this as during their evolutional history they have formed to endure constant movement. This leads to short-term pain and may even strengthen long-term degeneration of these structures.
What is the best way to alleviate back pain if you have a sedentary job and spend lots of time sitting?
Quite simply, don’t spend lengthy periods sitting in the same position. Try doing tasks that can be done while standing up, walk around during a phone call. Take frequent breaks and walk or exercise during those breaks. Exercising in your free time also protects your back. And what’s often forgotten but very important is that stress at work can affect our back as the way we feel pain is influenced by our feelings, thoughts and the environment. There is abundant evidence that stressed workers are at elevated risks of missed working days due to low back pain.
What types of exercise are best for relieving back pain and why?
There are very few head-to-head studies of different exercise regimens so it is hard to tell. Recently there has been a strong trend towards exercises that strengthen the core muscles, but that is not yet the gold-standard. Many experts recommend not to settle for any individual exercise regimen but rather to stick with what is fun so exercise can easily become a habit.
Are there any types of exercise you feel would make back pain worse?
That is very individual and depends on the personal medical history and underlying medical conditions. When exercises continually hurt, it is usually advisable to see an expert like a physiotherapist to discuss these problems.
What daily advice do you have for anyone looking to manage low back pain and minimise pain?
Many people have learned to cope with back pain and improved their condition by taking an active role when dealing with low back pain. In most cases, back pain is not something we have to accept but rather something we can confront actively. Studies have repeatedly shown that patients suffering from low back pain who felt they had seen improvement due to their own actions had better outcomes than those who just accepted the pain as a fate they just had to suffer. Exercise and attitude therefore certainly do matter when trying to self-manage back pain.
The Kaia app is an app for managing back pain and has been developed by Kaia Health with physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons. It offers various treatment programmes. Each session lasts for 15 minutes and can be accessed anywhere 24 hours a day. Available on iOS and Android, it can be downloaded via GooglePlay and AppStore. Visit www.kaia-health.com