Back pain is a common health issue today that affects at least eight out of 10 people.Chronic back pain has become such a debilitating problem – and it’s costly, too.There is one common denominator among most patients who suffer from severe cases of chronic pain: sedentary lifestyle. A majority of back, neck, and other muscle pains are related to imbalanced distribution of force throughout your body, which is created by working or staying in unnatural positions for extended periods.
What’s more, prolonged sitting and poor posture are major risk factors of not only back pain, but also of weight gain, obesity, joint problems, nerve problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, and other debilitating diseases. In fact, mounting research found that prolonged sitting is now an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death—even if you exercise regularly!
From slumping in front of the TV after a long day, to hunching over our computer screens; we spend an extraordinary amount of our lives sitting down.
The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) reports that 82 per cent of us spend six hours or more a day sitting in front of a computer screen, and 49 per cent watch between two and six hours of TV a day.
“With 35 million working days a year lost to back and neck-related problems*, it’s important that people think about their backs when going about their daily business, and that they seek help from an expert if they are in pain to avoid long-term problems,” says BCA chiropractor Rishi Loatey.
Why is good posture important?
Think of all those bad habits that you’ve adopted over the years… from cradling the phone in the crook of your neck, to sitting at a desk with your legs crossed, and hobbling around in uncomfortable shoes – they’re all linked to bad posture and can cause long-term problems if you don’t make changes.
“Good posture is critically important because it trains the body to stand, walk, sit and lie in correct positions where there is least strain on the supporting muscles and joints during everyday activities,” explains Mr Francis Lam, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at BMI Bishops Wood Hospital.
“Bad posture can lead to muscle fatigue, changes in coordination and movement stability and, as a result, an increased risk of muscle, tendon and ligament injuries such as shoulder disorders and chronic neck pain.”
Are you sitting comfortably?
“Modern sofas and cushioned chairs can encourage poor posture as the soft upholstery may not give the spine and neck the support that is required,” says physiotherapist Richard Evans of The Back and Body Clinic, Northampton.
“Sitting in a slumped position can add a tremendous amount of pressure to your back and lead to ongoing aches and pains.”
Try to resist the temptation to ‘slouch on the couch’, and instead sit up straight, into the back of the chair or sofa with your knees lower than your hips and your feet flat on the floor. This is a more supportive position to boost good posture.
Spend long hours at your desk?
Consider the Standing Desk, £249, which allows you to work comfortably either standing up or sitting down. Using one reduces the health risks associated with sitting for too long.
When bad posture causes pain…
Instead of reaching for the pain killers try Salonpas Pain Relief Patches, £4.99 for 3 patches, which supply pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medication directly to the site of pain.
They can be applied to the lower back, the neck, shoulders and moving joints such as knees and elbows.
Beat those posture problems
These three common things for women can be the cause of back and neck problems later on in life, here’s how to tackle them.
1. Walking in high heels
High heels can cause all sorts of issues, from slipping vertebrae to lower back pain.
“To avoid any pain or injury from wearing high heels, you need to take them off and stretch out your feet and ankles,’ advises Dominic Lee, personal trainer at SIX3NINE gym. Place the ball of your foot at the edge of the bottom step on your stairs, and slowly lower your heel to stretch your muscles and alleviate stress on your Achilles’ tendon.
2. Hold your handbag right
Heavy handbags can wreak havoc on your back and posture.
“Carrying your handbag in the crook of your arm may exacerbate postural issues such as rounded shoulder blades,” says Dominic.
“Ideally you should be using a rucksack with a shoulder strap on each shoulder, which allows you to control the distribution of weight. But if this is not an option, a long strapped handbag which crosses the body is the next best thing.”
3. Get desk savvy
Many of us sit for hours on end at a desk when we’re working. It can put severe strain on your back. Slouching and poor posture when using a computer can cause all sorts of neck and back problems.
“Make sure you’re positioned directly in front of your computer with both legs parallel and feet flat on the floor, so that your body is not subjected to unnecessary rotation, which in the long term can cause pain and discomfort,” advises Dominic.
Keep on moving
Don’t sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time – stand up regularly to stretch, change position and walk around a little,” advises chiropractor Rishi Loatey.
If you struggle to manage this, then gently massage the back of your head and neck. This helps to reduce back pain by promoting balance, strength and flexibility in the spine.
“Add just a few minutes’ walking to your daily routine, too. Walk to the shops instead of driving, or take the stairs instead of the lift,” adds Rishi.
Musculoskeletal pain connected to poor posture is often intensified by mental and social stress at home or work.
“Stress can have a direct link to how we carry ourselves physically,” explains personal trainer Dominic. “A stressed person typically elevates their shoulders with their head positioned in a downward position. And if the stress continues for long periods it can result in muscle soreness, muscle shortening and a build-up of tension in the neck and shoulder region.”
Try easy exercises you can do at your desk, such as neck and shoulder rolls. They help lengthen the neck muscles and stretch out shortened muscles.