This week in the UK (8th to 12th October 2018) is national back care awareness week. Although their focus this year is back pain in older adults, back pain is extremely common in the general population, and around 60% of adults in the UK can expect to have a back problem at some time in their life. For those with chronic or long term pain it can severely affect their lives. The good news however, is that more recent understanding about persistent pain and the importance of self-management, means that things like gentle movement, yoga and massage can help someone who suffers from back pain. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), has information and guidelines for the public and health professionals about back pain and what you can expect in terms of advice and treatment and the NHS website also has useful advice and guidance on managing back pain.
So what can someone with acute (recent) or chronic (long term) back pain actually do? If you have just experienced a recent strain or trauma, ‘relative rest’ is advised, with some gentle movement depending on what is possible. The movements could include pelvic tilt/turn (from lying on your back), drawing alternate knees in towards the chest (sitting or lying), and very small lying twists. Most mechanical causes e.g. a single incident, should improve within 4 to 12 weeks and you should normally be able to return to your usual activities.
Chronic or persistent back pain, if ‘red flags’ from underlying serious conditions have been ruled out, is likely to be more complex and be related to psycho-social factors of pain, which can include things like sleep habits, stress levels, mood, mental health, social connections and the degree of control over your work and life. Mapping your pain, which may change daily or weekly, can be helpful to see if there are any linked factors of when the pain is worse or better.
Depending on your own personal circumstances, relaxation therapies such as massage can be very helpful to encourage a sense of well-being, which can help with managing pain. It is also helpful to try to keep as mobile as possible, with a range of different exercises or activities. Yoga movements can be beneficial, particularly those which focus on movement around the pelvis, lower back and hips area, and yoga is specifically mentioned in the NHS advice. There is even an evidence-based Yoga For Backs programme with specifically trained teachers in the UK.
You can also find more information including recommended exercises and other advice in a useful Patient Information booklet by Arthritis Research and the NHS web page on back pain. Bed rest is no longer recommended!
[Disclaimer: This blog post does not constitute medical advice, and if you have any concerns about your pain you should visit a a health professional.]