Back pain: causes, effects and solutions
The body is designed to move. Yet, with increased urbanisation and the advent of technology, we are leading more sedentary lifestyles than we were 50 years ago – and it shows.
We have stopped moving. Instead of being out in the fields harvesting crops or hunting for food, we sit. We sit in the car, at the office and at home. And our smart bodies have adapted: rounded shoulders, slumped posture, forward head and rounded back are all too common.
Progress comes at a cost, and the truth is bitter with some studies calling sitting the new smoking, linking it to increased rates of cardiovascular diseases and physical pain, especially lower-back pain.
The numbers speak for themselves – 80 per cent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and back injuries are the number-one cause of work-related disability, according to the United States-based National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Dr Sebouh Z Kassis, specialist neurosurgeon at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery in Dubai, says that while back pain and spinal diseases are mainly determined by genetic factors and ageing, lifestyle also plays a significant role. “Scientific evidence supports the role of sedentary lifestyle in the onset of musculoskeletal disorders in general and back pain in particular. Many clinical studies found a direct link between long [periods of] sitting, obesity and back pain,” he explains.
The good news is that we are not doomed to living with back pain. The solution to restoring health to our bodies is simple, but it requires a shift in lifestyle. Excessive sitting restricts blood flow, hinders the elasticity of the connective tissues in the back and places three times more pressure on the lower back than standing.
Dr Rashid Buhari, head of physiotherapy and rehabilitation at Healthpoint hospital in Abu Dhabi, recommends getting up and moving. “Break up long periods in front of the computer with stretching exercises and be sure to work at an ergonomically correct workstation. If you practise good posture, you will maintain the natural curves of your back and help keep it strong,” says Buhari. “If you aren’t in good shape, you are more likely to hurt your back from simple movements, such as lifting your child from the cot.”
Activities such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing can also positively impact back health by reducing stress levels and giving overactive minds a break.
Steward Howison, who has been dealing with back pain on and off for the past 10 years, credits being more conscious of his posture and adopting healthier habits with breaking the pain cycle.
“Stress and tension are the main causes for my back and neck pain. But I’ve learnt to watch my posture, and I follow a regular maintenance programme to keep my tissues healthy. I cycle often, do self-myofascial release to relax, and consult a craniosacral therapist,” he says. “Now, I don’t reach for the medicine cabinet as often, I schedule fewer visits to the doctor’s and, most importantly, I have learnt to pay attention and recognise early warning signs.”
Your sleeping arrangements also have a bearing on your well-being; after all, it’s where we spend eight hours or more of our time each night. “The best position for sleeping is on your side. If you prefer sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow under your lower abdomen. The foetal position can also help open up the joints and spine, and relieve pressure,” Buhari says, before highlighting the importance of choosing the right pillows and mattress. “I recommend a semi-firm mattress for a pain-free sleep.”
There is no magic bullet against back pain. The key word is prevention, through proper exercise, healthy habits that should last a lifetime and a dose of common sense. Being informed and educated about your body is also important, like understanding basic anatomy and correct posture, developing body awareness and appreciating the objectives of performing certain exercises.
But above all else, remain positive and stand up for yourself. The power of the mind is an underestimated tool against physical and emotional aches.
Life doesn’t have to be a pain in the back.
Updated: December 11, 2016 04:00 AM