The dos and don’ts of caring for your back

Half of all people experience back pain at some point in their lives. It is the most common problem among older adults that results in pain and difficulty performing daily activities.

Today is the start of Backcare Awareness Week 2021, running to October 10, with the theme of back care for older people – and our physio manager, Kevin Teasdale, is here with some timely advice.

“The lumbar spine (low back) consists of five vertebrae (bones) with discs (cartilage) between them which allow us to bend and straighten,” he explained.

“As we get older, the joints and discs undergo changes. The main change is the progressive loss of water retained in the disc and this causes us to lose a bit of height with age.

“There are joints at the back of the vertebra and often these joints become painful when compressed due to arthritic change. This is completely natural, and the back (as well as other joints!) will often feel stiff on waking for up to half an hour.

“While this can be uncomfortable, it is rarely a sign of anything more serious and can be managed well with exercises and advice. While the past year and a half have been difficult for all ages and back-related problems have increased significantly (over 80%!), low back pain often improves by undertaking some simple lifestyle changes.”

Here are Kevin’s top tips for maintaining a healthy back.

The dos:

  • Pacing: Warm up first before activity. Some light exercises within a pain-free limit will help prepare your body – simple exercises like marching the feet or going onto tiptoes while sitting, and raising the arms to the side and above the head.
  • Recovery: Allow extra time for recovery if you feel additional soreness the next day.
  • Keep active! Walking is great to keep the joints moving. Try to take a few walks a day on routes with regular stopping points in case you need a break.
  • Exercises: A range of exercises can be useful to help promote a healthy heart and maintain strength and flexibility, including:
    • Resistance-type exercises to maintain and increase strength. These range from simple exercises like standing up from a chair without using the hands several times to increase leg strength, to gym-based exercises with weight machines / free weights.
    • Aerobic activities: Cycling, swimming, and brisk walking – particularly up a hill – can get your heart working more efficiently.
  • Class-based activities such as yoga and pilates can be an excellent way to meet people and encourage regular fitness activity.
  • Heat: The fluid in the joints and muscles which move them perform optimally when warmed up. This can be done through movement, although direct application of heat using a hot water bottle.
  • Walking aids: If you feel unsteady or have pain affecting one side of the body, try using a stick or walking poles

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t fear moving: It’s unlikely to make your back pain worse and twisting and bending will help keep you moving. Just make sure you work within your limits initially and gradually increase what you’re doing!
  • Don’t avoid exercise: Back pain shouldn’t stop you enjoying exercise or regular activities. In fact, studies have found that continuing with these can help you get better sooner – including using weights where appropriate.

Thanks for the tips, Kevin! If you’re lucky enough to be free of back trouble, why not share Kevin’s tips with family and friends?

For more information about Backcare Awareness Week 2021, visit http:backcare.org.uk

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