Top ten tips to ease your back pain this Christmas

Friday, December 18th, 2015, 7:52 pm

Who isn’t rushing around frantically at this time of year buying Christmas gifts, stocking the cupboards with food and drink and enjoying all the celebrations on the run up to the big day?  It’s a busy time of year, so if back pain strikes, finding time to visit a doctor or physiotherapist can seem a little ambitious, impossible even.

Back pain is bad enough without the added stress of thinking about everything you have to do, but can’t do, over the festive period because you’re immobile.  It’s a time for relaxing, eating, laughing and enjoying time away from the humdrum of life, not for being laid flat in agony without the hope of a GP’s appointment till well into the New Year.

But did you know that not all back pain needs professional help?  Nor does it mean you have to take to your bed.  Most people get back pain at one time or another and the good news is that much of it will go of its own accord within weeks and can be dealt with at home.
So here are some tips and advice on how to reduce your pain simply by making changes to your everyday life.

Keep moving
If back pain strikes, try to keep moving.  The advice years ago was to rest but inactivity only exacerbates the problem.  While you may want to stay in bed, it’s really not the best thing to do. Instead you should be as active as you can tolerate and continue with day-to-day activities, such as doing housework or walking the dog, as soon as possible.

Even if you can only do a few minutes at first, do that.   If you simply stay in bed, your joints will stiffen and your muscles will weaken so it will take you longer to fully recover.

You can exercise from the comfort of your own home if you’re unable to get out and about.  Regular exercise can help reduce and prevent back pain.  There’s a whole range of other physical activities such as walking, yoga, pilates, cycling and swimming you can take part in to keep your back healthy.  Have a chat to your GP before starting them.

Swimming especially is an excellent exercise for your back as it can strengthen and tone the muscles in your back and abdomen, therefore giving better support to your spine and helping to relieve pain.  Not only does swimming strengthen your muscles, but it’s also gives you a great aerobic workout.

Improve your posture
While you may have strained your back picking up a heavy object or twisting awkwardly, the strain that caused it may have been building up for years due to bad posture.  Whether you’re sitting, standing or even sleeping, it’s important to maintain good posture.

When you’re lifting, bend at the knees and never from the waist.  When you’re sitting at your desk, have your feet flat on the floor and your computer keyboard close to you so you’re not bending or slumping over the desk but sitting with your back straight.

Put a rolled up towel or cushion in the small of your back if you feel you’re not sitting straight enough.  You could even do the same in your car, another place where many of us are guilty of having bad posture.

Treat yourself to a new mattress
Why is it that we spend so much time in bed – around a third of our lives – and many of us are reluctant to invest in a decent mattress?  A soft and saggy mattress doesn’t give the back much support and can not only exacerbate back pain, but actually be the cause of it.  Changing your mattress every seven or eight years may help the problem, as well as using a pillow that can provide the correct support for your head.

Put it on ice
A simple ice massage has been known to relieve back pain and it is quick, free and easy to do. Putting ice on the affected area of your back works in by minimising the inflammation and swelling and so easing the discomfort.  Ice numbs sore tissues very much like a local anaesthetic and reduces the possibility of your nerves sending pain signals to your brain.

Heat it up
Some people find heat helps their back pain and again, this is easy to do from the comfort of your own home.  Moist heat is known to work better than dry heat so heat packs, baths and showers are best.

Get enough sleep
Although sometimes this is easier said than done, getting a good night’s sleep (eight hours is recommended) can help back pain as it can relax muscles and reset pain receptors.  It’s also important that if you’ve got a bad back you invest in a good mattress and pillows.  If you can’t afford a new mattress you could create a supportive bed by using plywood under the mattress or placing it directly on the floor.

Equally important is ensuring you adopt a supportive sleeping position; place a large pillow between your knees if you are sleeping on your side then bend both knees and bring them to you slightly so you back is flat.

Make sure the pillow is big enough to fit between your knees and your ankles at the same time. When lying on your back, place a full, supportive pillow underneath your knees and this action will also flatten your back and remove the arch from the lower back region.

Aim for a healthy weight
If you’re carrying extra pounds you are more likely to experience back pain as you put added pressure on your spine, joints and muscles.

Being overweight or obese can contribute to problems such as a herniated disc, sciatica, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis.  It’s therefore important to maintain a healthy weight to keep your back pain under control.

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