Spinal Advice: Interesting back facts

The Spine is an amazing piece of kit! While supporting our head and providing an upright posture it also protects the spinal cord that carries nerves that serve our body. It also provides attachments for muscles and ribs and acts like a shock absorber when we sit down, run, jump and walk. If you watched the Olympics this year will have at some point been amazed by the movements and positions the athletes manoeuvred themselves into – without our spines we would not have been able to do this! Here are some interesting back facts.

Going under the knife- In only 2% of cases where people have back pain, is surgery necessary.  Surgery is sometimes necessary when back pain is relentless or the patient is experiencing nerve compression or incontinence.
The lowdown on back pain – Most people have lower back pain at some point. This is because the lower back bears the weight of the upper body and is the junction between the stiff solid pelvis and the flexible bendy spine.
Bending over backwards – The spine consists of 33 bony segments, the vertebrae. The discs lie between these. They are tough and spongy and work as shock absorbers, and give the spine flexibility – the spine can in fact bend far enough to form two-thirds of a circle.
Branching out –Nerves from the spinal cord branch out and leave the spine through spaces between the vertebrae at the levels of the discs.
Not tonight, dear. I have a backache –Backache is second only to headaches as the most common location of pain.
Sitting ducks – Many people who often have back pain lead inactive sedentary lives.
They don’t call them stones for nothing – Severe intermittent back pain that goes down to your groin, could indicate that you have kidney stones.
You’ve got lots of company – In any two-week period of time, between 25 – 33% of all adults get some form of back pain.
Right down the middle. Pain in the middle of your back, which becomes worse after eating, could indicate a stomach ulcer.
The centre of it all – The spine, for all intents and purposes, is like central scaffolding for the rest of the body. The skull, the ribs, the pelvis and the limbs are attached to it.
So why do we get back pain? –  Poor posture at home and at work, stiff joints and muscles that place other joints under strain, repetitive over loading (running on hard ground for many years or heavy lifting), genetic predisposition, disease of the spine, the list goes on..
Try this for strength- The spine is so strong that it can withstand the pressure of hundreds of kilograms.
All on its own – 80 to 90% of back pain resolves itself within a month to six weeks.
Help or hindrance? Prolonged use of back braces and supports can actually weaken the muscles in your back, thereby contributing to the problem.
Red alert – When certain conditions, are present together with back pain, such as loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness, pins and needles, rapid weight loss, a history of cancer, or drug use, pain unrelated to movement, the patient should receive immediate medical attention.

10 Steps to beat back pain
1. Take time to adjust your car seat so that your back is upright and supported. Use a lumbar roll if your seat has one and aim to fill the hollow in your lower back – don’t over correct though.

2.  We all know the importance of a good bed for our backs but we don’t consider this when buying home office seating or sofas – spend a little extra on your home office seat you will spend many hours in it over the next few years. A deep sofa is hard to sit on correctly – use pillows to support your back.

3. Keep your back fit through regular exercise or activity – sedentary lifestyle causes back pain – Fact! Housework and gardening are all perfectly good examples of staying active.

4. There is no scientific evidence that  weak core muscles cause back pain – however we know that an uncontrolled or imbalanced core muscles  can cause back pain. You can have a house made of the strongest bricks but if its foundations are not stable it will still fall down – stability and control is preferable over strength.

5. Flexibility is important – tightness in one place can lead to strain in another – make sure you are stretching safely and that you stretch the right muscles – if you don’t know what you should be stretching see your Physiotherapist.

6. Take care with lifting – assess the lift and if you think it’s too heavy ask for help.  Use your arms and legs to take the load not your back. Try and keep your lower back straight and bend your knees.

7. Avoid prolonged repetitive bending and over stretching of your back- rather than spending 3 hours bending in the garden break it up into smaller chunks and do other activities that give your back and rest in between. It’s the sustained loading or over stretching that can cause the harm.

8. Take care with new activities – If you have not done a certain activity before or for a while, take care and take your time. This will allow your body to adjust and reduce the risk of harming yourself.

9. Warm up before sport and activity – before diving straight into that DIY or gardening or sporting activity ensure that you have limbered up a bit,  you might  choose to run up and down your stairs a few times, gently move you arms around or go for a brisk walk try to get your body feeling warm and awake. Be aware sustained stretching before sport when you are cold has the potential to cause more harm than good – always stretch when warm.

10. Your back has to support your entire body weight therefore if you are overweight your back is working harder. To find out how to exercise in order to lose weight seek advice from your physiotherapist.

We hope you enjoyed our newsletter if you have any questions relating to any of the topics or suggestions for future newsletters please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Stay healthy,
Dan Smith BSc Phys MCSP

Sports and Spinal Physio