Be alert to the pain of a bad back and what to do

A bad back can be torture
A bad back can be torture

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If you’ve never had a bad back, consider yourself lucky. However, chances are you’ll experience it to some degree in the future.

This week is BackCare Awareness Week and BackCare, the charity for healthier backs, points out that as many as four out of five UK adults, including celebrities like Victoria Beckham and the former Dr Who David Tennant, have back pain at some stage of their life.

It’s a huge problem, costing the NHS £1.3 million a day, and the UK economy £37 million a day, with around one per cent of the working population off sick due to back pain every day.

BackCare stresses that ‘back pain doesn’t kill, it tortures’. This won’t be the case for everybody, of course. For many people, the pain will only be mild or will improve or disappear quickly.

For others, though, back pain is a debilitating, chronic condition which can have a huge impact on quality of life.

BackCare says 30 million people will have back pain this year alone, and it wants the awareness week to draw attention to their suffering.

The week is particularly focusing on builder’s back pain, as construction workers suffer 30,000 new back injuries every year.

And the campaign isn’t just addressing professional building workers – the charity points out that 88 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women do DIY, which generates a further 80,000 new back injuries annually.

BackCare stresses that back pain is an important issue, whether or not you are actually affected by it yourself.

It says 90 per cent of people with acute back pain will recover within six weeks.

Dr Adam Al-Kashi, BackCare’s head of research, agrees that tension and worrying can have a huge impact, and points out that BackCare-funded research into negative thinking and back pain found that people prone to worrying were less likely to recover.

‘Acute pain is an important indicator of tissue damage,’ he says, ‘but once the pain becomes chronic, while it feels identical it’s actually driven in a completely different way by the central nervous system, via the mind.’

Dr Al-Kashi would like to see body strength exercises ‘become the new jogging’ in the future, and advises people to try calisthenic exercise such as yoga or pilates.

‘The financial burden is enormous, and back pain is a leading cause of time off work,’ stresses Dr Al-Kashi.

‘It’s so common, but a lot of the time people will have experienced back pain in a relatively minor form and they don’t appreciate that it can be very serious and can affect people’s whole lives.

‘Many people are permanently disabled as a result of back pain.

‘It doesn’t kill you. It does, however, destroy lives and livelihoods.’

Physiotherapist Nick Sinfield is eager to point out that relief could be out there – providing people look after both their backs and their mindsets.

In his new book, Now I Can Bend My Back!, Sinfield insists that much back pain is Tension Related Pain (TRP).

‘If people feel some back pain and it doesn’t subside and they aren’t given an answer to its cause, they may become worried, confused, and anxious about it.

‘This in turn may cause more tightness in the soft tissues around the back and neck, especially as people concentrate on the pain, which is commonly TRP,’ he explains.

‘This soft tissue tightness to the muscles and connective tissue can cause lingering pain or chronic back pain.’

He says TRP will affect people differently, and the degree to which it makes up the overall level of pain somebody’s experiencing will vary from individual to individual.

But, he says, if sufferers acknowledge and deal with TRP, and look after their backs by doing regular stretches and core strength exercises, the torture of back pain can be avoided for many.

For more information about back pain, visit BackCare’s website at backcare.org.uk, or ring their helpline on 0845 130 2704.