With 15 million people visiting their GP each year complaining of back pain and 150 million working days lost each year in the UK due to back pain, getting prompt assessment and effective treatment for back problems is key to a fast recovery.
Back pain can be debilitating and very scary, but the good news is that most episodes of back pain resolve quickly. If however the pain hasn’t settled within two weeks research suggests that assessment and treatment by a physiotherapist is recommended.
If you visit a physiotherapist they will take a history of your problem including how it began and what makes it worse, then they will carry out a detailed examination in a comfy treatment room and explain what is causing the pain and what can be done about it. To help you move forward they will put in place a plan for treatment to achieve a quick resolution of the problem. If needed the physio can liaise with your GP to arrange investigations, like X-rays, or give advice on modifications to work situations if necessary.
Physiotherapists are experts in assessing and treating joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves and use joint mobilisations, manipulation, soft tissue massage, electrotherapy and exercises to decrease pain and improve function. They are also experienced in problem solving and give advice to stop the problem recurring.
In all, 31 per cent of computer workers experience back pain each year and people who drive more than 25,000 miles per year are at even higher risk, averaging 22 days off per year with back pain compared with low mileage drivers who average just three days off. Poor posture is a major contributory factor but smoking, poor physical fitness, weak trunk muscles, low job satisfaction, personal problems, depressive symptoms and previous back pain all increase your risk.
So, as well as being yet another reason to give up smoking, the following advice will help you cut down risk of back pain:
l Watch your posture! It’s easy to slouch at your desk but this puts pressure on the discs and ligaments in your back. Try to sit up tall from your bottom with a shallow curve in your low back. Relax your shoulders, lengthen your neck and make a slight double chin to stop neck strain and headaches.
l Never balance your phone between your shoulder and your ear. This compresses the neck joints and tenses the muscles. If you use the phone regularly ask for a headset.
l Regularly review your desk set-up. Your screen should be directly in front of you and at the right height so you can maintain a good posture. Reams of paper or old phone directories are excellent to put under your monitor to raise it to the right height.
l If you work from home make sure you have a proper desk and office chair and remember laptops should not be used flat on a desk - look for a laptop stand and separate keyboard or plug it into a monitor.
l Stand up regularly – this relieves the pressure on the discs in your back and improves your circulation which brings oxygen and nutrients to the joints, muscle and ligaments.
l Walk over to speak to your colleague instead of sending yet another email – this is good for your back and research has shown that mini breaks like this actually improve productivity!
l Drink two litres of water a day. Tea and coffee do NOT count unless they are herbal or decaf! Once you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and this affects your muscles, ligaments and discs.
l Go out for a walk at lunchtime. This will help your circulation, burn calories and improve your fitness. Encourage a colleague to go with you – it’s much more fun with two!
l Make time for sport or activity in the evenings. The last thing your back wants to do after sitting all day is to slouch on the sofa all evening.
l If you do get pain don’t ignore it! Visit a Chartered Physiotherapist for an examination and advice. Most problems are easily solved with expert help.