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Back Pain

How to stop back and neck pain preventing you doing work you love

By Michelle McWilliam, Osteopath and Acupuncturist and co-owns The Totalcare Clinic

Whether your work involves lots of lifting, moving things around or, conversely, sitting at a desk for far too many hours each day, it’s crucial that you protect your back. Our bodies are designed to be able to undertake these activities however a combination of repetition, poor technique or inadequate physical fitness can mean we suffer with injuries that cause pain, ranging from a mild backache to serious pain. 

How does your back work?

The spine is made up of a stack of bones called vertebra and sandwiched between each bone is a disc. These discs are the shock absorbers for our spines and are incredibly strong. Imagine a jam doughnut. The jam in the middle is the nucleus pulposus, the dough around the outside is the annulus pulposus. The sugary coating around the outside is the annular ligament. Together these structures produce a disc that can be squashed in all directions to allow movement of the spine. Holding all of this together are ligaments and a complex array of muscles, which support the central column on bones and discs. 

Causes of pain

Various issues can cause back pain. Most commonly is the overuse of muscles. This can cause a deep, dull ache which gradually builds up during the day. This is due to muscle fatigue and is an indicator that the spine and muscles around it can no longer maintain the work you are expecting them to do. Alternatively, sudden, cramp like pain can be caused due to muscle spasms. This is where the muscles of the back feel the need to spasm as tightly as possible to stop you doing something, in an effort to reduce possible injury. 

More severe back pain can be caused by damage to the discs of the spine. Image the jam doughnut between two plates. As you squish the plates together you squish the disc. If, however, you place more pressure on one side of the disc, the central jam can push out towards the sugary coating. In cases of continued pressure this sugary coating can become damaged and the jam and dough can produce a bulge. In the worst cases the dough, or annulus pulposus, is also damaged and the jam, nucleus pulposus, can come outside of the doughnut, resulting in a herniation. If the disc bulge pushes out at just the right angle it can place pressure on the nerve which can produce pain. In the neck this could be felt as pain down the arm into the hand or in the lower back this will be felt as pain into the buttock and down the leg. This is known a nerve root compression. 

Manage and prevent pain

It becomes difficult to move when back or neck pains starts. Our body becomes stiff and immobile either due to muscles spasms or the pain that restricts our movement. The first stage is to try and reduce the acute nature of the pain. This maybe helped with hot or cold packs, or pain medication as prescribed or through a GP. Once pain has started to reduce, some movement will return as the muscles start to relax. Manual therapy can then be used to try to further reduce the muscle spasm, mobilise stiff joints and improve the movement of the spine. 

Of course, exercises are an important part of maintaining health for the spine. They help not only to prevent injury but also for the treatment of injuries once they have started. Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates are all excellent forms of exercise to maintain the strength of muscles in the spine, your core control. They can also improve and / or maintain flexibility of the ligaments, muscles and joints of the spine and neck.

Manual handling techniques are incredibly important for preventing injury. Lifting incorrectly can add a large amount of pressure on the neck and spine. If this is added to poor spinal health due to poor posture and declining physical fitness, the chances of injury are increased.

Treatment 

The body needs to be given the right environment to help itself, in order for disc problems to resolve. This means that the spine needs to be moving to the best of its ability, with enough strength and control to undertake the activities that are expected of it. For example, a desk-based worker would not need the same strength and control as someone working in a warehouse or garden centre where lifting and shifting equipment is a regular activity. Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists are all skilled and able to provide the correct treatment and advice to try to help with back and neck pain. 

When the body is unable to heal itself and manual therapy treatment has been unsuccessful, clinics can recommend IDD Therapy. This form of treatment is a specialised form of spinal decompression, controlled through computers to provide the exact amount of decompression to a targeted area for a sustained period of time. The targeted area means that the specific disc that is causing the issue can be targeted rather than a broad traction throughout the whole spine. The gentle nature of the treatment means that the muscle spasms can be eased to improve spinal mobility and, therefore, proves a far more suitable environment for the spine to heal. 

As the pain subsides, manual therapy and gentle exercise can, of course, be re-introduced to help get patients back to full health again.

Keeping your body strong and mobile is the key to enjoying a long, enjoyable and – importantly – pain free career. Since over eighty per cent of people will experience back or neck pain at some stage in their lives, it is reassuring to know that in most cases in can be helped quickly with conservative management and for other cases there’s IDD therapy, so that, if you are one of those people, you can rest assured you’ll be back at work doing what you love quicker than you think.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle McWilliam is a highly experienced Osteopath and Acupuncturist and co-owns The Totalcare Clinic in Botley, just outside of Southampton. The clinic provides Osteopathy for adults and children, Acupuncture, Sports Massage, IDD Therapy, and boasts 48 classes per week of Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi. 

‘Intervertebral Differential Dynamics’ or IDD Therapy is the fastest growing non-surgical spinal treatment for intervertebral discs with over 1,000 clinics worldwide and 34 clinics across the UK. Safe, gentle and non-invasive, IDD Therapy helps patients who need something more for their pain when manual therapy alone is insufficient to achieve lasting pain relief. http://iddtherapy.co.uk/

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