Suffering from back pain is a burden that affects all aspects of one’s health.
As the body is controlled by the central nervous system, the spine must be able to support it in order for people to function at their full potential.
The spine should be recognised as a priority when it comes to maintaining good health. Back pain is an increasingly common problem many people face, with 70-90% of Australians experiencing back pain at some point in their life.
Between 2014-2015 alone, 3.7 million people reported back pain, equivalent to 1 in 6 people, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
There are a number of simple lifestyle changes individuals can make daily to improve their spinal health and reduce the risks associated with back pain.
Below, leading spinal surgeon, Dr Michael Wong shares five ways to not only alleviate back pain, but also to improve spinal health in the long-term.
1. Reduce sitting time to 45 minute increments
If you’ve got an office job, you’ll notice that your daily routine tends to lead you from bed, to the car, to a chair and finally the couch. Whether you partake in exercise or not, sitting for prolonged periods of time causes the brain to recognise that position as one to hold, allowing your muscles to shorten and locking your posture. It’s even been claimed that ‘sitting is the new smoking’, with long bouts of uninterrupted sitting increasing our risk of death. It’s important to take a break from the sitting position at least every hour if your job or lifestyle keeps you at a desk. Keep an eye on the time or set a timer to stand and walk around the room every 30-45 minutes to give your body and mind a quick break to refresh. You can also do jumping jacks, calisthenics, sit ups or whatever option works best for you. Standing desks are also a good alternative.
2. Consciously correct your posture
Sitting for long periods of time causes the back to tense up and lock, which is even worse when sitting with bad posture. A good way of correcting this is to get into the habit of noticing and fixing your posture to sit up with a straightened back. The more you correct yourself, the more you will unconsciously sit in this position. Mobile phones also cause posture issues. When in use, keep the device at eye level to decrease the stress to the back and neck.
4. Sleep on your back
In terms of sleeping, the most comfortable positions usually aren’t beneficial for spinal health. Sleeping on your stomach offers no support to the back and the pull of gravity causes the spine to bow. The most supportive position for your alignment is sleeping on your back. Although this may be uncomfortable initially, it is a good habit to get used to. For more support, sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs. Invest in a supportive mattress and pillow that promotes proper alignment of the neck.
4. Stretch your muscles
It is important to stay flexible through stretching to avoid back problems or potential injuries. The core muscles, particularly the lower back and abdominal muscles need to be strong and supple to support the spine and take pressure off the lower back. Core muscles are rarely used in everyday activities, so have specific, targeted exercise to strengthen core muscles. Also make sure to stretch before doing heavy lifting or exercising and add it to your daily routine just before bed. Stretches can be as simple and as quick as bending forward, bending back, and bending side to side.
5. Focus on a healthy diet
It’s important to make lifestyle modifications to help manage overall pain. Be conscious of any excess fat, especially on the central abdomen which puts extra weight on the lumbar spine. When you have a healthy diet, it is more likely you will have more energy to do exercise regularly. Nutrients in anti-flammatory food have properties that can help relieve pain and assist in reducing osteoarthritis of joints. Examples of these foods include fish and food that contain omega-3 fats, antioxidant-rich foods such as leafy greens, avocados and berries and particular dietary supplements such as ginger root and turmeric.