How I've helped to reduce my back pain during lockdown
- Credit: Christine Webber
I first mentioned Covid-19 in a column last March. Who would have thought we’d be in a serious lockdown again ten months later, or that our lives would remain so badly affected in so many ways?
One of those ways, according to several medical sources, is an increase in the number of people with back problems.
Experts point to a disturbance in our normal sleep patterns as well as raised anxiety levels because of the virus. However, the biggest culprit seems to be inactivity. Not all of us are inactive, of course. Teachers, bakers, supermarket staff, call centre employees, delivery drivers and everyone in the health service, are working flat out. But that still leaves masses of us stuck at home, moving around less than usual, and prevented from doing many of the types of exercise we depend upon to keep healthy.
Even people who have sedentary occupations tend to be less mobile at home than they would be in the workplace. There’s no sprinting upstairs to discuss something with a colleague, or a meander down a long corridor to a meeting, or a trip to the water cooler. Instead, home workers sit for hours in front of a computer, often in cramped conditions, and on chairs that were never designed for the purpose.
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Then, in the evenings, as we can’t get out for a drink, or to visit friends, or the cinema, most of us are slumped in front of the television where we rarely think about whether we’re sitting properly until our backs tighten up in protest. And if we’re not watching TV, we’re probably lounging around using Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp or Zoom to speak to our nearest and dearest. Again, we don’t give our backs a thought till pain strikes.
Back trouble though is nothing new. In fact, BackCare – the National Back Pain Association – claimed some years ago that 80% of the population suffer from it at some point in their lives.
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That point for most of us though doesn’t normally occur till we’re at least 40.
I remember exactly when and how this happened to me. It was towards the end of my time at Anglia TV, and I was being photographed in a Father Christmas outfit to advertise a Toy Appeal. (Well, someone has to do these dreadful jobs!) The session went on a while and when I straightened up and handed back the sack of toys I’d been carrying on my shoulder, my back went into a very painful spasm.
Naturally, I got better in a week or so, but from then on, I realised that I needed to treat my back with much more care and consideration – and some 30 years later I still have to.
So, I thought I’d pass on what I’ve learned in the hope that new sufferers might find it useful.
If you spend hours at a computer, work standing up if you can. A decade ago, I bought a small, firm table. I placed it on my desk and put my PC and keyboard on top of it.
This enabled me to stand while writing and I’ve done so ever since. There’s no doubt it’s helped my back. Other bonuses are that I think more clearly when I’m upright, and I also believe I’m doing my bit to maintain bone density.
Devote some thought to back-maintenance as well as to overall fitness. For a start, ensure you exercise different muscle groups and that you’re not just cycling, running or swimming with no variety. I’ve adopted many strategies over the years, but the one that works best for me is to include an hour a week of both Pilates and yoga in my exercise schedule.
Obviously, none of us can go to classes at the moment. But some fantastic teachers have launched sessions on Zoom and this works really well. In fact, many individuals prefer exercising in the privacy of their own home, so I suspect this option will continue even when the pandemic is over.
Go walking: it’s one of life’s great joys. But as I’ve aged, I’ve realised it’s much more beneficial for me to walk on grass, sand, or paths that have some ‘give’ in them. Hard pavements and roads can stress ageing knees and hips as well as the back. So, even in these difficult times try to find a park, a local beach, or footpath rather than pounding the highways.
Make stretching part of your day. Here are some excellent exercises to start you off: https://www.healthline.com/health/lower-back-stretches But if you’re in any doubt about whether you should do them, please consult a doctor, physio or osteopath first.
Wear supportive shoes. If you’ve been drifting round the house in slippers much more than usual, switch to wearing trainers through the day. Most slippers have no firm structural support around the heel and ankles, and this could aggravate your back.
I know life is exceedingly tough at the moment, but back ache can only make it worse. So do try to use this time to care for your back and improve its health. After all, when this nightmare finally ends, we all want to hit the ground running, don’t we?