We discussed in previous blogs that discs don’t “slip”, that your disc injury can recover, and that disc injury does not always equal pain experienced. Today we’ll discuss how our environment can be contributing to back problems. We’ll explore why it is that whilst there is a move away from jobs that involve lots of heavy manual work that you’d expect to result in back pain, more people are struggling with back pain than ever before.

We all at some level know the answer but maybe just don’t want to admit it, and that is because the answer is a difficult one to fix. One of the main reasons back issues are increasing is because of the nature of our lifestyle. Our lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary, at both work and at home. We are spending more time sitting in chairs or staring at computer screens. Often our solution to the problem is to look at increasingly complex ergonomic chair designs that help support our back in the most optimal position. This is better than sitting in a poorly design chair which lacks any support, but it doesn’t fix the ultimate problem that we are designed for movement, not to sit in chairs. Research supports exercise as being one of the most beneficial things we can do, and it doesn’t seem to matter what type of exercise or activity, they are all equally good. This demonstrates the importance of movement to help with injury recover.

In the last 5-10 years people have advocated for the use of standing desks to solve the problem, as they help to break the flexed sitting posture that we are spending more and more time in. The idea is that they help prevent issues with muscular tightness in hip flexors and allows better loading through the joints. The problem with standing desks is that they are just replacing one static posture with another. Standing for long periods bring similar problems as sitting, we constantly load the same muscles and we can stand in poor postures that put altered loading through our joints. Standing desks would be great if we used them to increase our movement throughout the day. The issue is that this would take a change in how we go about our daily activities. A change to our work environment and a change in what we view is normal for people to be doing. Over the past 40 years we have reframed what is normal. It is “normal” to spend 8+ hours sitting in front of a computer, but if we look back through history this has never been the case. We are predominantly movement-based creatures. We need to remember this when we are trying to recover from injury and if we are trying to prevent injuries.

This might seem like a simplistic answer to the issue of back pain, but often the simple answers are the best. Movement is key. We need to look at our lifestyle and see how we can incorporate more movement into our daily activities. Can we take the stairs instead of the lift? Can we walk to the shops instead of driving? If we must drive to the shops can we park further away? At work can we get out of our chair regularly to stretch our legs? At the bare minimum you should be doing some simple back mobility exercises in your chair. Such as pelvic tilts and thoracic spine rotations.

Why We Need to Move

We have talked about how strong the discs are in our back, they are designed to be able to tolerate the different forces placed upon them by our body as we move from one position to the next. They are not designed to stay in the same position for long periods of time. This prolonged loading can put increased tension on a particular part of the disc, making it more likely to injure at a later date. This can explain how simple movements that we have done a thousand times can result in significant back pain. Through regular movement we are helping to continually change the load and allowing for more equal distribution of forces throughout the disc.

If you’re struggling with back pain and finding ways to keep moving and active, don’t worry. With a little help from Sports Lab you can make a full recovery from your back injury.

Richard Linley is a senior Sports Lab Physiotherapist. He has extensive knowledge in major trauma, and both acute and chronic care. Rich is also known to enjoy falling off his mountain bike.