From stiff shoulders to lower-spine spasms, back pain can be a nightmare. These six posture-perfecting tips will see you straight…
Sit up straight. Really straight, shoulders down, as if there’s a puppet string hooked to the top of your head. Feels good, right? Imagine if you sat and walked that all the time without even thinking about it. You could potentially avoid being one of the 9.6 million people who suffer from back pain every week-a staggering statistic revealed in recent EU survey. By integrating a few simple adjustments into your lifestyle, you can strengthen and preserve the most important structure in your body-your spine-fending off future twinges and chronic aches. Are you ready to reshape your attitude? We can show you how.
1. The small investment you need to make today
Osteopath and acupuncturist says, “If there’s one piece of kit I’d make everyone have, it’s a wobble board.” The humble little spaceship-shaped exercise equipment does a surprisingly big job. When you step onto it and try to correct your instability, nerve impulses are fired off to control your muscles (the process is called proprioception). The more you practise the nerve communication, the better your muscles respond-leading to improved coordination and back strength. “Use it for a couple of minutes every day-maybe when you’re brushing your teeth or during ad breaks on TV. Having had a serious back injury in the past, I use mine all the time to prevent future damage.” With fans including super-toned Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as forever-young Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, that’s the most realistic. A-list fitness advice we’ve ever heard. PhysioRoom Adjustable Balance Wobble Board.
2. Open your mind supplements
Just as you’d take a vitamin to support your immune system, certain supplements have been proven to aid joint lubrication and prevent muscle strain. In fact, at the time of writing, new legislation was passed requiring all herbal medicines to feature a registered ‘THR’ stamp under the Traditional Herbal Registration scheme to confirm their efficacy. One supplements company that already had 18 herbal medicines licensed is Schwabe Pharma. “My recommendation for back support is devil’s claw extract,” says Schwabe’s technical director Dr Dick Middleton. “It’s a perennial shrub that grows wild in the deserts of Namibia and the name refers to its hooked, claw-like seed pods. It’s used for its anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxant and analgesic properties in patients with chronic back pain and osteoarthritis, and it’s a good supplement to take control muscular inflammation.” Find your daily devil’s claw dose in FlexiHerb tablets at Boots nationwide.
3. Needles work
There’s plenty beyond a hot stone massage to ease your back. Did you know acupuncture has recently been made available for free on the NHS? Kate Winstanley, a member of the British Acupuncture Council and a practitioner at London’s Food Doctor Clinic, explains how a few tiny pins can make a big difference. “According to MRI scans, gentle stimulation of specific acupuncture points triggers the body’s one natural healing response by releasing necessary hormones and natural painkillers. When we’re stressed, our body releases the fight-or-flight protein neuropeptide Y into our blood; acupuncture can significantly reduce levels of this protein and calm the central nervous system. The needles activate specific energy points to strengthen the regulatory systems. As a result, patients have more energy, their muscle function improves and they’re less likely to succumb to future back problems.” Speak to your Gp about a referral. Or find a private practitioner in your area and expect to pay from 35-60 for an initial consultation, though it will be more at an exclusive city clinic.
4. Practise safe flex
We know yoga and Pilates are fantastic for core strength, but joining even a beginner’s class can do more harm than good. “I’ve seen people who have done their backs serious harm trying a new class,” says a physiotherapist and pilates instructor. “If you’re keen on starting, book a one-to-one session first to test your flexibility.” It’s with this in mind that Pilates guru Lynne Robinson has launched the Back4Good initiative, providing low-cost Pilates classes nationwide specifically for those with lower-back pain. “We worked closely with medical experts to create a set of exercises designed to target many of the complex underlying causes of back pain.” There are two classes on offer: the Healthy Back class (a gentle workout to support the back, improve movement and strengthen the spine); and the Back4Good session (for those already suffering from chronic pain, taught as a one-to-one class or in a small group).
5. Step in the right direction
Woe betide the magazine that dares to suggest an ‘ideal heel height’ to a modern woman. Could there be anything more unrealistic (and boring)? Instead, focus on improving the shoes you wear when doing a workout or walking long distances, as those repetitive movements can create cumulative strain-especially in the lumbar region connected to your pelvis. “Running shoes and sport bars are the only things I choose carefully,” says Olympian Sally Gunnell, 45, who still runs three times a week. “Most good sports shops can fit shoes properly for support and cushioning. Feet may curve inwards or outwards, so you want the impact through your shoe to be aligned with your legs and spine. And if ever your posture feels uncomfortable, switch to running or walking on grass instead of concrete and stay on flat surfaces. A good sport bra can stop that heavy bounce that throws the back into an unnatural jerk. When I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I used to wear two bras at the same time.”
6. Rewire your posture
Practice makes perfect, they say. So, you can learn to transform your body shape for better back health? “If you so something consciously over and over again, it’s going to become second nature subconsciously. “If you keep associating an ordinary regular task with readjusting your posture, you’ll find yourself walking and sitting in an entirely new way.” The puppet-on-a-string technique is ideal, originally suggested by the orthopedic surgeon in the early 1970s, who told his stunt-acting Hollywood patients Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Jack Nicholson to imagine a string attached to the top of their backs to prevent injury. Picking your “ordinary regular task”, as he suggests, is entirely subjective, but aim for something you do quickly and often every day, like sipping water from the bottle on your desk, checking emails, sending a text message or looking at your watch. Each time you do it, think “puppet” and, after a few weeks, you’ll be standing tall permanently.
Who to see for what
Don’t know the difference between a physiotherapist, osteopath and chiropractor? We decode all three term:
- Osteopaths : An osteopath has trained for a degree recognised by the General Osteopathic Council and uses touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, relieve muscles tension, enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and help the body’s own healing mechanism. They may also provide advice on posture, exercise and acupuncture to aid recovery and prevent symptoms recurring.
- Chiropractors : A chiropractor has trained for a degree recognised by the British Chiropractic Association. They have a similar approach to osteopaths, but also use diagnostic and therapeutic tools, such as ice, heat and ultrasound.
- Physiotherapists : Physiotherapists are healthcare professionals and should be members of the Chattered Society of Physiotherapy. Like osteopaths and chiropractors, they work in various places including hospitals, GP surgeries, private practices and community clinics. They help restore a person’s range of movements after injury or illness using a combination of massage, manipulation and occasionally ultrasound.
- The Bottom Line? : Essentially, osteopaths and chiropractors provide the same level of area and quality, while physiotherapists have more limited means of treatments but can be equally beneficial. We suggest you make decision on who to treat you based on convenience, location and price.