A pain in the back – how to deal with it, and how to look after yours

A pain in the back how to deal with it, and how to look after yours

Back pain is incredibly common and most adults will experience it in their lifetime. It’s also the largest single cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain alone accounting for 11% of the total disability of the UK population.

It has a huge impact on people’s lives, leading to prolonged sickness absences from work, early retirement, loss of independence, anxiety and depression. With waiting lists for both physiotherapy and surgery at an all-time high, it’s more important than ever to look after your back.

How to look after your back

Your spine is incredibly strong, but it also does a lot of work, and it’s well worth taking proper care of it. Here’s how:

1. Avoid lifting heavy items, twisting and wrenching

Give your back a break and think carefully before you lift something heavy. Avoid over-reaching, twisting or wrenching your body, and don’t ever carry more than you can manage.  If you have to carry a heavy load, try distributing the weight – for instance choosing a backpack instead of a shoulder bag – and keep your body as parallel to the load as possible.

2. Invest in your core muscles

One of the best ways to protect your back is to invest in your core – and taking exercise to strengthen your core stomach muscles.

3. Start from your feet

Good spine alignment starts at your feet, and the shoes you wear and even the way you stand can have a huge impact on your back. Go for supportive, flat, comfortable shoes whenever you can.

4. Think about your posture

Think about how you treat your back during the day – when you’re walking around, standing or sitting. Hours spent slumped at a desk, for instance, can put a strain on your back and lengthen or shorten the wrong muscles. Make sure you’re correctly positioned with the right kind of equipment – especially at work.

5. Sleep well

We spend a lot of time in bed – and we’ve all woken up with a stiff back. How you sleep can make a huge difference to your spine. Start by making sure your mattress and pillow are supportive. Try sleeping on your side with an extra pillow between your legs, or if you’re a back sleeper, with the pillow under your knees to keep your spine in alignment.

6. Keep moving

Backs love movement. Staying in any one position for too long can cause aches, pains and strains. Make sure you move at least every half an hour, even if it’s only to walk around or stretch for a few minutes.

How to treat back pain

No matter how much you take care of your back, it’s likely you’ll experience back pain at some point.

Back pain can have many different causes, from a strained or pulled muscle to tendon problems, or medical conditions like a slipped disk or sciatica. Very often it will get better within a few weeks by itself, and there’s plenty you can do to help your recovery:

1. Keep moving

Again! It turns out bed rest is actually the very worst thing you can do for your back. Move slowly and carefully, but do keep moving. Things like swimming, yoga and pilates can be particularly useful to gently stretch out your muscles.

2. Take painkillers

Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen are more effective for back pain than paracetamol. Never take more than the recommended dose, but do take it regularly, so you keep up a background level of cover.

3. Use heat and ice

Applying an ice pack or a heat pad to your back – or an alternating combination of both - can really help to ease back pain. A bag of peas in a tea towel can reduce pain and swelling, and a hot water bottle can calm muscle spasms and stiffness.

4. Stay positive

It’s incredibly hard to stay positive when you’re living in pain, but studies show your attitude to pain can make a huge difference in how you’re able to manage it. It’s why cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended for people living with pain, and even anti-depressants, which appear to block some of the chemical signals from the brain in a way that can help.

Remember, most back pain isn’t serious, and will clear up by itself. It may just take a bit of time.

When to seek more help

If your back pain hasn’t got any better within 6 weeks, it’s time to take it to a GP.

It can be very difficult to diagnose the cause of back pain, and it may be that you’re referred on to a specialist for further diagnostic tests, like an MRI scan. Depending on the cause of the problem, possible treatments can include physiotherapy, surgery, injections or other medications.

Very rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious problem such as a broken bone, cancer or an infection. See a doctor immediately if you:

  • Have lost weight unexpectedly
  • Have a fever
  • If the pain gets worse at night, or with coughing or sneezing
  • Have trouble with weeing or pooing, or loss of control of your bladder or bowels
  • Have chest pain or trouble breathing
  • Have numbness or tingling in both legs, or around you genitals

How Equipsme can help

With your Equipsme plan, you’ve got access to a 24/7 nurse advice line if you need to talk about how to manage symptoms, pain and medication. You’ve also got access to a GP appointment booking service 24/7 -  and that means you can get an appointment to talk to someone at a time that suits you. If appropriate, the GP can also provide you with an open referral and, if diagnosis or diagnosis and treatment are part of your plan, you can refer that open referral to AXA Health who will assess if your claim is covered to help you get seen by a specialist, fast.

Most importantly, though, your Equipsme plan includes access to physiotherapy advice as well as face-to-face sessions if appropriate. That means that if your condition is covered, you don’t have to go onto an NHS waiting list or pay out to see someone yourself – AXA Health can help you speak to a physio specialist or book a session and get the attention, advice and ongoing exercise plans you need to start getting your back back to normal.


Related blog articles:

How to use the nurse support line
How to see an Equipsme GP
How to get a physiotherapy appointment
Link to How to lift well article

Further reading:

NHS back pain
Versus Arthritis
Pain UK