Whether it’s checking our smartphones or slouching over our desks, modern life is a real pain in the neck…and back. There’s a host of bad habits that we know aren’t good for us – from that dessert we inhaled last night to laying out in the sun. And scrunching ourselves over a screen for the majority of the day is right up there. But you’re not alone as the Office for National Statistics has found that almost nine out of 10 Brits suffer from neck or back pain every year, resulting in 31 million working days lost to musculoskeletal conditions – more than the common cold.
Although the term ‘sit up straight’ conjures up childhood memories in class or at the dinner table, personal trainer Charli Cohen (charli-cohen.com) says that posture is now more important than ever. “Our backs play a large part in so many aspects of our overall health. Allowing the muscles of our back to become under-used and lazy can contribute to poor posture, a reduced range of motion in the spine, digestive and blood flow issues and ultimately chronic pain. Having a strong, balanced back will contribute to better overall standing and seated posture, increase blood flow to your digestive organs, help keep your vertebral discs healthy, allow you to perform at your best in the gym and of course remain pain-free, functional and happy,” she says. Now that sounds like a plan we can get on board with – here’s how you can.
Stress strains If there’s ever a time when we’re not mindful about our posture it’s in the throes of a stressful situation. But feelings of anxiety or sadness can alter our stance and be detrimental to our back health.
“The first thing that we do in stressful situations is breathe with the chest instead of the abdomen, leading to neck, shoulders and upper back tension,” explains osteopath Amberin Fur (osteopathuk.com). “As a consequence of this we will become tired quickly and this can affect our efficiency at work.”
- Breathing exercises
- Global release exercises like yoga, and stretching
- Consulting with qualified professionals such as a psychotherapist
Sleep stiffness Getting a good night’s sleep is top of everyone’s health list, but when it comes to getting comfortable with back pain, it’s easier said than done. “At night our body goes through the process of tissue repair and if we don’t allow it that time, it can produce aches and pains,” Amberin says. “Whichever position you adopt, try to keep the spine neutral. If you sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees to allow your lower back to be free of tension and your hips to be balanced and neutral.”
Choosing the correct orthopaedic pillow
- The height should support the neck without disturbing the rest of the spine
- It should be firm enough to maintain the position of your head without losing its shape
- Always try the pillow first before buying it (avoid online shopping)
Tech Neck Ok, we’re not going to name and shame, the majority of us are guilty of scrolling through our smartphones, but counteracting the damage caused by this could make a significant difference to your neck and back pain.
Research has shown that our head weighs between 10lb and 12lb and as we look down at our phones, the weight increases to 60lb at a 60 degree angle. According to Amberin this could result in a chronic problem. “Shifting the load from the intended weight bearing joints to over-strained supporting ligaments can result in tendonitis, spasms and neurological symptoms if a cervical nerve becomes pinched,” she says.
Balancing this hyper flexion with arching or extension stretches and making some key changes such as
- Support your devices higher so they are at eye height with an appropriate support for the arms
- If you are working on your laptop for any length of time use a USB keyboard so that you can raise the laptop to eye level and still have access to a keyboard at the preferred ergonomic position. Use the 90/90 rule of elbows, hips and knees at 90 degrees.
This exercise can also alleviate muscle tightness:
- With your shoulders down, tilt your head to one shoulder and keep the stretching for 10 seconds and then change to the other side. Repeat 10 times.
Put your back into it Take the stress off the back and keep key muscles strong and supple with these top stretches by brian walpole, director of personal training at workshop gymnasium (workshopgymnasium.com)
1. Sit on the ground with your legs as wide as they can go to the left and right.
2. Fold forwards at the hips, bringing your chest towards the floor. Reach your arms forward in front of you and hold for two seconds.
3. Take a deep breath in and on the out breath attempt to lower further towards the floor trying to keep your knees straight.
4. Hold for a further two seconds at this new position and repeat 10 times.
Hip flexor release
1. Stand in a straddle position with your right leg in front of your left.
2. With a TRX anchored behind you, bring the handles in front of your body and hold them at shoulder height in each hand.
3. Squeeze your left glute muscle hard for two seconds to stretch your hip flexor.
4. Raising your hands above your head, hold on to the TRX then return your hands back to shoulder level.
5. Repeat this 10 times for each side ensuring you feel the stretch in the front of the hip.
1. Lie on your back with your right knee bent and right foot flat on the floor.
2. Holding a small kettlebell by the handle upside down, balance it carefully in your left arm with a straight elbow. The important part of this exercise is to pull your shoulder blade down to your back pocket squeezing hard and activating your latissimus dorsi muscle.
3. Hold for 30 seconds and change sides.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
2. Pull your toes off the ground so only your heels are down (this helps to increase glute activation which is good for back health).
3. Squeezing your glutes throughout the entire movement, lift your hips off the ground as far as you can, hold for two seconds and return to the floor repeating for 10 repetitions.
4. Perform two sets with 30 seconds rest in between.
Lying crossover extension
1. Lie flat on your tummy, with arms overhead and legs wide so you are making an X shape with your body.
2. Breathe in, brace your tummy and simultaneously lift your left leg and your right arm off the ground, hold for two seconds, then return to the floor.
3. Repeat for 10 repetitions and then switch to the opposing side for another 10 repetitions.
4. Take 30 seconds rest and repeat once more for each side.