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Top ten tips to prevent back pain and sciatica

With over 150 million working days lost each year in the UK due to back pain and 15 million people visiting their GP each year complaining of back pain. Anywhere between 2 to 10% of people with back pain go on to develop leg pain related symptoms commonly referred to as sciatica. What can we do to help ourselves?

At least 31% 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 work per year with back pain compared with low mileage drivers who average just 3 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 tips will help you cut down your risk of back pain and sciatica: –

  1. Watch your posture! It’s easy to slouch at your desk but this puts pressure on the discs and ligaments in your back. Just be mindful of how you are sitting. Try to notice if there are any particular positions that are uncomfortable and be sure to adjust away from them. Not many people sit with the stereotypical ideal posture but aiming for that ideal will help improve your strength. Try to sit up tall from your bottom with a shallow curve in your low back. Relax your shoulders, lengthen your neck and relax back to stop neck strain and headaches. Consider investing in a good cushion to take pressure off the lower spine when you feel tired.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 magazines are excellent to put under your monitor to raise it to the right height.
  4. If you work from home, make sure you have a proper desk and office chair and remember that laptops should not be used flat on a desk – look for a laptop stand and separate keyboard or plug it into a monitor.
  5. 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. I recommend the Yoga pose ‘Greeting the sun’.
  6. 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!
  7. Drink plenty of water during the day. Consider drinking herbal tea or decaffeinated tea or coffee. Once you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and this affects your muscles, ligaments and discs.
  8. 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!
  9. Make time for physical activity in the evenings. The last thing your back wants to do after sitting all day is to slouch on the sofa all evening!
  10. After a workout treat yourself to a relaxing hot bath allowing the muscles to relax before slipping into bed for a good night’s sleep.

If you get back pain what can you do get rid of it?

If you do get pain don’t ignore it! Visit a remedial massage therapist or physiotherapist. Most problems are easily solved with expert help.

Getting prompt assessment and effective treatment for back problems is key to a fast recovery.

Back pain can be debilitating and very scary, the good thing is that most episodes of back pain are resolved quickly.  However, if the pain hasn’t settled within two weeks research suggests that assessment and treatment by a medical professional such as your GP, a remedial massage therapist or a physiotherapist is recommended.

If you visit a physiotherapist or a remedial massage therapist 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 comfortable 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 they will recommend that you visit your GP to arrange further investigations, if necessary, or give advice on modifications to work situations if necessary.

Physiotherapists, remedial massage therapists, osteopaths and chiropractors are experts in assessing and treating joints, muscles, ligaments and nerves and may use joint mobilisations, soft tissue massage, electrotherapy and exercises to decrease pain and improve function. They are also very experienced in problem solving and providing advice to stop the problem recurring.

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