It is amazing just how many of us have chronic pain - and how much it costs us all and the state.
A whopping 35.5% of the Irish adult population suffers from chronic pain (Source|: NUI Galway Centre for Pain Research)
Chronic lower back pain is the most common syndrome. As much as 12% of us are unable to work or have reduced work hours because of it. And 15% meet the criteria for clinical depression. So, it has significant mental health as well as physical implications.
The average cost per chronic pain patient runs to €5,665 per year and you can double that for those with depression. The total cost per annum runs to €4.76 billion every year. These are extraordinary numbers. But they are very credible based on my experience in our clinics.
Most back pain occurs in the lower back and lasts for days or weeks, but it can last months or even years. It can manifest itself as soreness, stiffness or tension in the affected areas and can lead to the same in the upper legs, front or back.
Back pain can feel like it affects everything – your mood, your work, your daily life and your sleep. However, normally it can be managed with a combination of staying active, specific exercises and over the counter painkillers, if necessary.
Here are our tips for getting through it.
1. Keep moving
It may seem counter-intuitive, but reducing your activity levels is likely to prolong your suffering. In the old days it was believed that bed rest was the best for it, but this leads to your body’s tissues becoming less flexible, your oxygen not flowing as freely, and your muscles being used less.
Gentle exercise, without exacerbating the pain, will help prevent stiffness. This may mean modifying your regime to include more low impact exercise, such as swimming and walking. Start with a short session and build it up, especially if this means you are doing something new.
2. Good posture
Oftentimes the back pain originates from poor posture, whether that is from being slumped over a computer, on the couch or a poor driving position in our car. Fixing that and maintaining a strong upright posture will help greatly. Use a chair with a backrest. Change your position regularly and get up and walk around every half hour. Make sure you have a good seat or backrest in the car.
3. Build up your strength
Exercises. Exercises. Exercises. These are to physios what location is to estate agents!
There are lots of stretches and strengthening exercises that can help you with your back pain by making you looser and stronger in the affected area. You can see a couple of back pain exercises on our Exercises page. However, if your problem is serious and ongoing, you should see a Chartered Physiotherapist to be given specific exercises geared to your specific condition. Pilates can be a very good way to build up strength in your back and prevent future injury.
4. OTC Painkillers if necessary
These can be useful insofar as they reduce your pain level so that you can take gentle exercise. A safe way to go about this is to use regular paracetamol (so long as you have taken them before and do not know of any reasons why you shouldn’t take them). If this is ineffective then you can consider using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, like Ibuprofen. However, these can have side effects, particularly if taken in combination with other drugs, so we would recommend discussing this with your pharmacist or GP.
5. Manual Therapy
Manual therapy is one of the treatments we use as Chartered Physiotherapists to treat back pain. This is where we use our hands to move, massage and apply careful force to the muscles, bones and joints in and around your spine. It can help to reduce back pain, but it should be done in conjunction with other measures such as exercise.
6. Stay positive
How you think about your back pain can have an effect on how you get through it and if you can stay positive about it, it will help. As noted in my introduction, back pain can often be accompanied by mental heath issues. Psychological therapies such as CBT might be worth considering.
I hope that these pointers help you navigate your back pain and make a full recovery as soon as possible. If you are concerned then make an appointment to see us and we will give you informed advice based on your particular circumstances.