Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints. Your back provides support for your head and neck as well as your torso. Maintaining your back in a fit and healthy condition is crucial to being able to enjoy a fully active (and pain free) life. Whether that is as an elite athlete, someone who exercises regularly, or being active in everyday life.
Back pain can be caused by injuries, disk degeneration, infections, and hereditary conditions, such as ankylosing (stiffening of the joints) or spondylitis (inflammation of the vertebrae). Fortunately, most cases of back pain aren’t caused by serious damage or disease.
According to Silvano Zanuso, Head of Science at Technogym: “There are numerous causes of back pain but bad posture, muscle imbalance and a sedentary lifestyle are among the most important yet most avoidable ones. Stress is also a big contributing factor.”
Back pain caused by bad posture, muscle imbalances and stress can be triggered by everyday activities at home or at work, for example:
- Overusing the muscles (during sports activities or carrying out repetitive task)
- Bending down, forward or in an awkward position for long periods
- Incorrectly lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy objects
- Slouching or hunching in chairs
- Twisting awkwardly or suddenly
- Over-stretching, or stretching when your muscles aren’t warm
- Driving in a hunched position or for long periods without taking a break
“A sedentary lifestyle is a modern day cause of back pain. Taking this further, sitting and inactivity are also really damaging both for general health – you don’t improve your heart or metabolic system by sitting still – and for physical well-being – quite simply, pain is not nice!”
Of course, there are also instances where back pain develops suddenly for no apparent reason. For example, some people experience waking up with an unexplained back pain – they have no idea what caused it.
There are a number of things that can increase your risk of developing back pain, these include:
- Being stressed or depressed
- Being overweight
With so many variables at play, let’s focus on what is within our control for avoiding back pain in the first place.
Avoiding back pain
Keeping fit is extremely beneficial in preventing, helping, or not exacerbating back pain. Aerobic exercise strengthens your lungs, heart and blood vessels, and can help you lose weight. It is important that if you have back pain, you seek advice from your health professional before undertaking any exercise.
Exercises such as walking, swimming and cycling may all help reduce back pain. Start with short sessions and build up over time. Swimming, can be particularly beneficial because your body is supported by the water with no impact on the joints, however, it is wise to avoid any strokes that twist your body. Whatever exercise you do you should always listen to your body and if you feel pain, stop and get it checked out.
Developing stronger core muscles will also help decrease the risk of injuring or straining your back muscles. Think of your core like a rod running down the centre of your body. If the rod is thin and bendy like a young willow shoot, it isn’t going to do much to support the weight of your structure. Your core needs to be strong to support the weight of your upper body, including your back and neck.
This is why it is important to include core strengthening in your exercise regime as it will help protect your back and neck. It is vital that you include exercises that work all of your core muscle equally to avoid creating an imbalance. If your abdominal muscles are considerable weaker than your back muscles, the latter will constantly be pulling your body out of alignment creating pressure in your lower back which can result in hyper lordosis (excessive inward curvature of the lower spine) and lower back pain.
Possibly the best way to prevent back pain caused by muscle strain is to avoid straining your muscles in the first place. Good posture, whether seated or standing can help protect against strained muscles that lead to back pain.
The Wellness Ball from Technogym is designed to encourage good sitting postures and works on the principles of “Active Sitting”, even when used as a replacement for a chair.
Active Sitting means that, by sitting on the Wellness Ball, your back performs a series of micro-movements that improve the spine-stabilizing action of your abdominal and lumbar muscles, known as the core muscles, without your even trying consciously to move or to “do exercise”. Furthermore, as the Wellness Ball has no back support, you therefore feel compelled to sit more upright, to not slouch, and also to stand up at frequent intervals – so it encourages movement as a natural by-product.
"Once up, why not walk 5-10 steps…this immediately means mechanically you are moving your vertebrae," say Silvano.
However, as Silvano points out “sitting on a ball does not mean you will automatically have a perfect posture. Even the best ergonomic chair will not help if you just sit there all the time. What is required is to have the vertebrae constantly moving very slightly – whether sitting still, or reaching to answer the phone, or by positioning frequently used items (such as your pen, pad, stapler, calculator, smartphone, desk phone) just out of arm’s reach and certainly not right next to you so you are forced to stretch to reach them.”
Another way to avoid straining your back muscles is to use proper techniques when lifting – using the strength of your legs and not your back to lift will help you avoid unnecessary muscle injuries.
If you spend a large part of your day seated at a desk your muscles will be immobile for long periods, which will cause them to stiffen and your muscle fibres to contract. Stretching regularly releases tension and allows muscles to lengthen again. Consequently, stretching for a few minutes a day may be very beneficial for certain types of back pain. Remember to ease into your stretches so that you don't accidentally damage your muscles by tearing the muscle fibres through sudden movements.
Silvano offers this advice: “If you’re tired or feel you are losing posture, stand up and refresh yourself. It may be hard initially to break the habit of slouching or poor posture, but once you break it then you will form a new habit of sitting well with a good posture and you will so do it without thinking about it."
Being over tired can have adverse affects on your back because fatigue can affect your posture and make your movements sloppy; making it more likely to cause injury. Make sleep a priority and be sure to get enough sleep each day, if possible 8 or more hours a night. Both your mind and your body will benefit.