Back Pain and Keeping Your Spine Healthy

Published on: November 11, 2019

Emma Lawrence, a British chartered physiotherapist, presents few tips to keep our spine healthy through parenting years. 

By Emma Lawrence

 

On a daily basis, millions of people worldwide are suffering from the physical, emotional, and often financial burden of back pain. It typically presents as a one-off or episodic back pain, with or without radiating leg pain (sciatica); or for a smaller yet significant percentage of the population, as a source of ongoing chronic pain.

Recent figures published by the World Health Organization suggest that in industrialized countries, 60-70% of people will be affected by back pain at some point during their lifetimes.

Parents are … likely to experience [back pain] while their bodies adapt to the physical and emotional demands of their new role.

Simple mechanical back pain with or without sciatica, although common, is fortunately not often serious in nature and is usually self-limiting, resolving within 6-12 weeks from its onset.

The common response to such an episode may be bracing or resting. However, such behavior is no longer believed to be of benefit and may actually prolong the resolution of symptoms.

Beginning a new job especially where lifting is involved is recognized as a risk factor for back pain. Parents are no different from new employees and as such are likely to experience similar symptoms while their bodies adapt to the physical and emotional demands of their new role.

Note that for a small percentage of people, the cause of pain is of concern and medical investigation to reach a diagnosis is necessary. This kind of pain does not resolve on its own and is usually accompanied by other signs, commonly referred to as ‘red flags’. 

Back Pain Red Flags

  • Altered sensation in the area between your legs, including during sexual intercourse.
  • Difficulty passing urine or loss of control of the bowels.
  • Unexplained weakness in the legs.
  • Malaise, night sweating or feeling unwell alongside the pain.

Managing Pain

The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines are developed based on existing research. Its findings are used to improve outcomes when treating a variety of medical conditions.

The 2016 guidelines on managing lower back pain and sciatica endorse exercise and, wherever possible, keeping active in everyday life.

  • The most effective medication (to be taken for the shortest possible period and only where no other conflicting condition exists) was non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (for example Ibuprofen).
  • Massage or other hands-on soft tissue or joint techniques are recommended but only alongside exercise.
  • For those preferring not to take medication, covered ice applied to the painful area for up to 15 minutes (4-5 times per day) is generally effective in providing localized pain relief.

Considering that ‘prevention is always better than cure’ and that parents are at risk, here are some actions to help you prevent future painful episodes.

Simple Steps for Preventing Back Pain 

Spine flexibility

The spine is central to all physical activity, whether for movement or stability. A closer look at its anatomy reveals a bony column with interconnecting joints. Its intricate structure makes it easy for things to go wrong when healthy flowing movement is lost and stiffness sets in.

The neck possesses the greatest mobility and the lower back is the most load-bearing part of the spine; these are often the site of pain. With posture strains that come with intensive parenting, the middle Thoracic region can also become stiff. This can present as pain locally or elsewhere along the backline of the body.

Spinal movement occurs in three ways: forward to back, side to side, and twist or in combined directions. Try following a simple program of stretching that involves each of these directions, a handful of movements in each, daily.

In addition to greater length and overall movement, these exercises can be pain-relieving and boost circulation to the spine and internal organs. That can help kickstart a sleepy bowel, something else that commonly slows down when back pain is present, and ease going to the toilet. 

Home ergonomics

Ergonomics describes the best fit between people and their objects. Stooping, overreaching, repetitive movement and overloading in lifting, all contribute to back pain.

Consider all tasks that make up the 24 hours in a day of baby care. What can be reorganized, reduced, or removed to enable the spine to operate in a more upright position?

Where things cannot be changed, alter your interaction with them:

  • Load through the legs in a lift rather than the spine; widen foot position for greater balance and stability and even more load distribution.
  • Move regularly to reduce the time spent in one position, especially whilst feeding.
  • Move limbs, neck, and spine through their motion range to welcome in fresh circulation.
  • Strengthen your body

Look for exercise that works the deep core to include the pelvic floor and respiratory diaphragm to be both flexible and active.

Start simply by expanding breath to the maximum and core activation in static postures, then progress to include movement and gentle load. Doing this for 5-10 minutes several times a day will go a long way to prepare your body for parenthood.

Offset fatigue

Whilst getting up frequently during the night, acknowledge the impact sleep loss has on your body. Aside from compromising mental sharpness and mood, the nightly work of spinal disc rehydration can be upset.

Make realistic targets for what can be done in a day and simply rest when you can until the night-time situation improves.

Managing stress

Note the relationship that often coexists between stress and pain. Recall any strategies previously used to boost resilience during challenging times in your life. Simple focus on mindful practices, especially involving focused breathing will serve parents well.

The 2016 [NICE] guidelines on managing lower back pain and sciatica endorse exercise and, wherever possible, keeping active in everyday life. 

Lifting, carrying, stooping, huddling, prolonged fixed posture, exhaustion, inability to cope, and feelings of isolation are all recognized features of parenthood that can contribute to the experience of back pain. Many previously used treatments or remedies for such pain have been debunked.

However, exercise remains supported by the current medical evidence base. Exercise is able to improve psychological wellbeing and benefits both mind and body. This may go some way in explaining how it has proved to be so effective in the current management of pain.

 

Suggested Resources

 

Reference

  • NICE Guidelines: Quality standard [QS155] Low Back Pain & sciatica in over 16s. Published date 2017

Images by Arek Socha from Pixabay and Scott Stewart on Unsplash.

 

About the Author

Emma, MCSP, BSc Physiotherapy, PGcert Women’s Health, is a British chartered physiotherapist with a clinical special interest in women’s health and a passion for pilates and mindful movement. Originally from London, she lives in Bangkok with her partner and two children. 


The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

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