health

Here are all the very valid reasons your back is sore right now.

Whether you're back in the office enjoying some of the small pre-covid delights (attending real-life meetings, watching the office dog do cute stuff, celebrating your colleague's birthday with a Woolies mud cake), or still WFH in your fave trackies, jumper and high-bun combo, there's one teeny little thing that always manages to stay constant: Your crippling lower back pain.

Because sitting on a chair for up to nine hours a day can do things to you.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where Kelly recommends a pore treatment she uses on her back. Yes, her back. Post continues below.

We spoke to Scott Coleman, founder and CEO of Preventure to find out more about lower back pain, including the most common causes and how we can fix it. Coleman is also a qualified physio and has worked with Australia's top athletes at the AIS and Athletics Australia - so he has quite a few feelings about back pain.

Why do I have back pain?

So, what's the go? Why do we feel like we're creeping up on our 87th birthday? "According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wealthfare, 70 to 90 per cent of Australians will experience back pain at some point in their lives." Yep. That's a helluva lotta sore backs getting around.

Coleman said that while it is super common to experience back pain, apparently not all back pain is the same. "The source of this pain can be physical (coming from ligaments, joints and muscles), or it can be psycho-social (due to stress and the brain mis-reading messages from the muscles and nerves in the back)." 

Anyone else thinking theirs could be to do with the latter? 'Cause same.

"Unfortunately, during these difficult COVID times we not only have some people working longer hours with changing work routines, increasing physical back pain, but we also have a lot of people experiencing stress-related back pain." 

According to Coleman, many of us may have spent a lot of time finding the right at-home work station (read: balancing your laptop on top of the ironing board) and have now gone back to an "office set-up that is 'one size fits all' - which is likely to cause pain."

What am I doing wrong?

"There are a lot of myths around the cause of back pain," says Coleman. "The old label of a 'slipped disc' due to heavy lifting or too much bending is not always the cause of back pain. Yes, overloading the back through lifting or bending is a common cause of back pain, however back pain can also occur from a lack of movement or under-loading." 

"The joints of the spine need to move to maintain function. When joints are not being used, they become stiff and painful and the muscles around them become weak and tight which can also lead to pain. And then there's stress, which can increase the tension in the back muscles causing pain regardless of whether there has been overload or under-load." 

This is all starting to feel VERY close to home.

How much of it is to do with my posture?

Okay, here's the super interesting bit. While a lot of back pain is due to posture, Coleman said it's not necessarily 'bad posture' that causes back pain. The commonly accepted idea of sitting up straight in your chair to avoid back pain isn't necessarily correct. 

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Mind. Blown. 

"Some people have what's traditionally known as 'good posture' in a tall position with their head above their neck, their neck above their torso and a level pelvis. However, these people are just as likely to develop back pain as people with 'bad posture', such as a sway lower back, slouched upper back or head positioned in front of the neck."

"The posture most likely to cause someone pain is the posture that they are not used to. If a person with 'good posture' spends time in a slouched position, their joints and muscles will become painful. Likewise, a person with 'bad posture' who spends time in an upright 'good posture' position will also experience pain in their joints and muscles as they are not used to this position. Often, trying to correct your posture from bad to good can only increase back pain."

Key takeaways? Don't mess with your posture.

Help me! How can I fix it?

1. Keep moving

"The best way to reduce risk of back pain is to make sure you are not doing too much, or you are not in one position for too long. So, keep moving!" advises Coleman. If you're sitting for long periods of time, get up and stretch your legs. Do a dance. Make a TikTok.

Watch: Here's a Peaches Pilates total body session. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia


2. Take regular breaks from physical work

"As we know, back pain can occur when muscles and joints are over-loaded, which can occur when you are doing too much physical work or holding an awkward posture that you are not used to. So, make sure you take regular breaks from work or awkward postures, and try moving the joints in the opposite direction," advises Coleman. "For example, bend backwards a few times if you have been in a forward position for a while."

3. Use ergonomic chairs

If you spend a lot of time in one position, such as your desk for work or study, Coleman recommends making sure your desk and chair is ergonomically set-up in an efficient position.

4. Stretch. Like, regularly.

"Stretch and change your position every 30 to 45 minutes. This will prevent the joints and muscles becoming stiff and painful. A physio mentor once told me that, 'the best posture is the next posture'." How good!

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Is it okay to crack your back?

Does anyone else crack their back on the regular? Goodness gracious, it's good.  And you get some kind of vicarious thrill from of hearing that intense sound. But is it actually okay to do this?

"When it comes to cracking your neck or back to prevent pain or stiffness, there are also a lot of myths and wives' tales," says Coleman (while we eagerly wait in anticipation to find out if we're single-handedly damaging the hell out of our spine). "Firstly, let's look into why joints crack in the first place. If a joint in your back or neck has not moved for a while, the lubricating fluid in the joint can form small bubbles which then make a cracking noise when the joint is stretched. This is only bad for you if it causes pain, or if you are forcing joints into an uncomfortable position to make them crack." 

"So, if your neck or back joints feel stiff, it's likely because you have not been moving for a while and stretching will make you feel less stiff, regardless of whether the joints crack or not. And no, there's no scientific evidence that cracking your joints too often will increase your risk of developing arthritis."

Excellent. Just as we thought. Told you, Mum!

Okay. What should I NOT do?

"The biggest mistake is avoiding physical activity." (Damn). "We are taught from a young age that if we are injured, we need to rest. This is true when you have rolled your ankle, or torn a muscle, as the damaged tissue needs to be rested to heal," explains Coleman. "Only severe or traumatic back pain requires rest. For all other back pain, physical activity will help."

Our advice? Go see a physio and ask for some expert advice on what kind of exercises you should be doing to help improve your lower back pain. "A good physio will help to guide you with the right amounts of activity and movements to not only reduce the pain, but reduce the risk of it returning," said Coleman. "There are also a lot of good smartphone apps which can provide exercises and stretches to reduce back pain."

How do I make sure my work set-up is sound?

"The key is to listen to your body," says Coleman. Meaning, if you experience pain in your neck or back whilst working, then something's up with your set-up. "Even if you have followed ergonomic advice from a safety professional or followed on-line instructions, if you are not comfortable then it is the wrong position for you."

"There are new tools available which use wearable technology and smartphone apps to assist with finding the right position by measuring your posture and movement throughout the day and providing feedback. And of course, making sure you take regular breaks from work will always increase comfort and reduce risk of back pain developing."

Keen for more info about using technology to reduce back pain? Hit up www.preventure.live or download the Preventure.live app on Android or iPhone.

Feature image: Getty

Do you suffer from back pain? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

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