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How to manage back and neck pain

Our Associate Wellbeing Coach, Katie Fownes, shares her expert advice on how to manage back and neck pain…

We are all experiencing different work patterns and this may lead to increased levels of back and neck pain.

The first thing to understand is the way you sit at your desk is unlikely to be the reason you are in pain. Back and neck pain aren’t caused by one thing, it is more likely a combination of factors such as poor sleep, sedentary lifestyle, high levels of stress, poor physical conditioning and anxiety which all add up to cause pain. The way you sit at your desk is probably not the cause but it could be one thing in a whole myriad of reasons that adds up to the pain you may be feeling.

The human body likes variety – variety of movement, variety of thoughts and variety of activity. The problem is when we take variety away, physical or mental, we have no challenge. So when you ask your body to do something out of the ordinary it has no idea how to cope.

Challenging ourselves

We have to create a challenge for the mind and body to see a change and the more we stop physically and mentally challenging ourselves as human beings the bigger the problem.

Take for instance the constant messages of protect your back, use a pillow or mattress to support your spine or use a chair to support your back all day. This is telling you your back is weak and needs help. The complete opposite is true; your back is incredibly strong and just needs to be taught how to be used effectively. By constantly supporting or protecting your back you are taking away a physical challenge.

You are designed to bend, twist and move and when you don’t perform these movements the muscles become weak and the joints become unused. The problem is you have to bend, twist and move during everyday tasks (think about just going food shopping) – and when you doing something you are unaccustomed to your back muscles will react in a way to protect you. You then avoid bending, twisting and moving so they get weaker and stiffer and the problem just gets worse.

Convenience is a curse of the 21st century….

Mobile phones and remote controls mean we no longer have to move from the sofa. Tumble dryers mean we no longer peg the washing out. Cars means we no longer walk to work. Escalators mean you don’t take the stairs.

We move on a daily basis far less than we used to, and whilst some of you will be reading this and saying I run marathons, some of you will be reading this and realising how little you move. You will be realising how little you challenge your body.

Take five minutes and ask yourself two questions:

  1. When was the last time I learnt something new – that really made you think
  2. When was the last time you felt physically exerted

In an ideal world you should be able to think of something recently. If you can’t, why not make small changes in your lifestyle to create big differences?

What is the best thing I can do to combat back and neck pain?

Research has shown that there isn’t one activity better than the other. So essentially do anything which increases the amount your joints move. Yoga, pilates, walking, dancing, weights… anything!

What if I tried all of that and I still have back and neck pain…

When it comes to the human body, we have to look at everything and not just the problem. How many of you have tried all the exercises and nothing has worked?

  • Did you do them consistently and do you still do them?

If the answer is no to either part, then you haven’t built up a tolerance for movement and there is no longer a suitable challenge for the body.

  • Have you ever had counselling or tried to understand why you are in pain?

You might think this is a bit strange, but psychological aspects play a massive role in chronic pain. Most of my patients are unhappy people and when they understand why, then their pain gets better.

The good news is you will get better but it will take time and effort. Only you can fix yourself – a therapist of any description is there to point you in the right direction but ultimately it’s down to you.

But there are a few things you can do in order to reduce the pain and prevent it from ever happening…

Move more

This doesn’t have to be running a marathon or going to the gym five times a week (although both of these would be great). It’s about doing more than you did yesterday. Joints in your body are like joints in a machine. If they are unused they will become stiff and over time this will have an impact on range of movement.

Try these simple exercises on a daily basis:

Start small and increase your level of activity – not only will this have an impact on your pain level but also will improve your health – win win!

Mindset

The worse you think you feel the worse you will be. Think positive – this won’t instantly get rid of pain but, as it is a number of reasons you are in pain. it’s going to take a number of things to get you out of pain.

Physically challenge

Why not set up an office challenge? Every morning do 20 squats together. When they get easy, add in 20 press ups and keep building up from there. Or for the more adventurous set up a virtual walking, running, cycling challenge  – lands end to John O’Groats or virtually swim from UK to America. You can add your daily totals together to complete the distances.

Mentally challenge

Challenge your brain – put it under stress, it likes it! Help your body to understand what stress is in a controlled way and it will cope with uncontrolled stress better.

Change

If you don’t like something, then change the situation or change your attitude towards it. Think about being around someone who is constantly negative – it’s draining!

Chronic back and neck pain are frustrating. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you will get better. It just takes times and consistency.

Further learning on back and neck pain

Would you like to educate your employees further on managing back and neck pain? Get in touch with the We Are Wellbeing team. We run a series of informative, engaging webinars, training sessions and much more to help your people thrive.

Find out more on managing back and neck pain by giving our Wellbeing Insights series a go!

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