How to Prevent Back Pain: Tips for a Healthy Back
"We sit too much, move too little and don’t eat very healthily. Everyday life has become too 'immobile'. Sooner or later this triggers enormous back problems." Professor of medicine Dietrich Grönemeyer from Bochum, Germany is not surprised that back pain is regarded as such a widespread epidemic. In the UK, 2.5 million people have back pain every year. A social problem, in medical and economic terms.
According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, treating all types of low back pain cost the National Health Service more than £1000 million per year. The same report, released in 2009, stated that low back pain can lead to long-term results such impaired mobility, higher risk of social exclusion due to unemployment, reduced income, and a generally lower quality of life.
Parents: A Bad Influence?
Even children complain of back pain now and then. "Because they often adopt the immobile lifestyle of their parents," says Professor Grönemeyer. According to a report published in June 2018 by the Department of Health and Social Care, almost a quarter of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school aged five. According to Grönemeyer: "Sluggish adults are a bad role model for their children". The consequences: back pain is diagnosed in ever younger people. According to Grönemeyer, 70 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Germany complain of back pain. Some cases of herniated discs have even occurred in school-age children.
Get Off the Couch!
According to a Physical Inactivity Report published in 2017 by the British Heart Foundation, about 39% of adults in the UK are failing to meet the government recommendations for physical activity. They also estimate that the average UK adult spends almost 30 hours a week watching television, which equates to about 64 days a year.
This amount of inactivity is more deadly than it may seem: the UK analysis of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study estimated that one in ten premature deaths from coronary heart disease is related to physical inactivity.
Prevent Back Pain with Exercise
Professor Grönemeyer has just the right advice for those who want to avoid becoming just another back pain statistic: go to the gym! Grönemeyer insists that one should adopt an active lifestyle in order to prevent back pain. Anyone who moves too little or sits too much (or sits with poor posture) should expect to have weakened or tense muscles in the future. These muscles are of utmost importance since they protect the spine and cushion a large part of our body weight which rests on it”. About 80 percent of all back pain is caused by tense muscles," explains Grönemeyer.
There is an additional psychological factor to back pain: "The back must carry everything, including stress and mental strain. Those who experience a lot of stress tend to pull up their shoulders - according to Grönemeyer, this is a completely natural, unconscious defensive posture. Unfortunately, this position also limits mobility in our chest, which makes rotary movements between the hips and shoulders more strenuous, until everything begins to ache.
Pain can also be caused by pinched nerves, displaced intervertebral discs and strain on one side of the back. "But wear and tear is only partially responsible for back pain". Grönemeyer says that about ten percent of back pain is caused by the vertebral joints and only three to four percent by changes in the intervertebral discs.
Avoid Surgery: Get Active
Multiple studies and news stories have shown that a significant percentage of spine surgeries could be unnecessary. Nevertheless, many people still opt for back surgery. It is "incomprehensible", says Professor Grönemeyer, "because 80 percent of back pain is caused by tension - sometimes psychologically triggered. As a rule, one can relieve the tension with application of heat, careful movement, physiotherapy, osteopathy or acupuncture".
That is why lifelong exercise is the best prevention. Take the stairs instead of elevators, ride bicycles instead of driving cars, exercise instead of browsing facebook.
Back Exercises: How to Strengthen Your Back
Check out these six exercises, easy to practice at home and even at work.
Exercise 1: Torso Stretch
Goal: Stabilisation of torso muscles, a counter-movement to everyday posture.
Instructions: Move the arms as far as possible behind the head and pull in the navel slightly.
Variation 1: Bend your knees slightly, then re-straighten your legs and extend your arms at the same time.
Variation 2: Use only one arm.
Variation 3: If you have shoulder problems, open your arms further.
Repetitions: 12 - 24 x
Exercise 2: Arm Stretch
Goal: Coordination and activation of deep, stabilising muscles close to the spine.
Instructions: Stretch both arms over the head, push the arms left and right or circle them over the head. Keep navel slightly retracted and knees slightly flexed.
Variation 1: To increase height, move hips right to left or in a circular motion.
Variation 2: Hold a water bottle in both hands to increase the difficulty of this exercise.
Repetitions: 12 x 24 x
Exercise 3: Squats
Goal: To learn a technique to pick up objects without straining your back- and to strengthen glutes, legs and back.
Instructions: Stand with your hips wide and push your bottom down backwards - as if you wanted to sit down on a chair.
Variation 1: Put your hands on your thighs (slightly easier exercise).
Variation 2: Hold a Pezzi ball and take it forward as you go down.
Repetitions: 8 - 12 x
Exercise 4: Lunges
Goal: With this technique you learn how to pick up light objects from the floor in everyday life in a way that protects your back. The glutes and legs are also strengthened.
Instructions: Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
Variation 1: Raises your arms above your head as you lower into the lunge.
Variation 2: In the end position of the lunge, turn your upper body toward the front leg.
Repetitions: 16 x
Exercise 5: Leg Lowers
Goal: Back-friendly training of the abdominal muscles and strengthening of the torso.
Instructions: Go on the ground in supine position and pulls the navel inwards. Then slowly lower one leg and lift it again. Important: The lower back must remain on the mat.
Variation 1: If you put your head down, the exercise becomes more difficult.
Variation 2: For very advanced: Lower both legs, but only if the lower back remains on the mat.
Repetitions: 8 - 12 x right/left alternately
Exercise 6: Hip Raises
Goal: Strengthening of the back muscles - especially the gluteal muscles, stabilisation of the trunk.
Instructions: Go into a supine position, places the feet hip-width on the ground. Raise and lower the pelvis, with the hips remaining in the air.
Variation: Put your feet on a gym ball or a small chair.
Repetitions: 16 x
Tips for a Healthier Back
If you want to do something for your back, you will find countless guides. We’ve done the research for you, and here are some great resources to find tips for a healthier back: