I doubt if there is any single person on this earth who has not had back pain at some stage or the other in their life. There comes a time in nearly every adult's life when his or her back calls it quits !!! About one in two people of working age suffer from some sort of back trouble each year, this is what the statistics say ! And 80 percent of those experience pain in the lower back sometimes or the other in their lives. So, it is little wonder that a whole industry has popped up catering to ailing backs.

There are massage parlors, rollers, special mattresses, Lumbar supports, ergonomically correct chairs and hundreds of other gadgets and gizmos all designed to save our backs. In spite of all this , after flu’s and colds, back problem accounts for the largest number of lost manpower hours more so now than any other time in the history of mankind. One can of course attribute this fact to the life styles we lead.


Straws that break the back

In one of the medical manuals I read the reasons for backache have been termed as straws, in a while, I will explain why this is so.

Many people believe that back pain usually strikes when they exert, stretch or bend beyond their limits – like for example bending over to pick up a heavy load, reaching up to sweep cobwebs in tricky places around the ceiling fan or twisting behind to see the drape of a lovely saree worn by someone at the very end of a room or street!

But according to back specialists and the medical journals that I have read, these are simply the proverbial straw that sent the camel to the chiropractor. There is a good chance that the contributing culprit is something else altogether called static posture – in simple language , when you sit and sit and sit and don't move around much. The main contributory factor – inactivity which many people are guilty of now unlike yester years !

If you are working in an office on a desk job, that’s exactly how you spend your entire working life. Think seriously about it. You probably take a bus or take your own vehicle to reach your work spot which may take 30 -45 minutes or more each day. You work at your desk for a good seven or eight hours each day and these days you don’t even stroll to workers cubicles or the staff room for a chat with your colleagues or go to the canteen to have coffee and snacks because of the work pressure. You use the intercom, use Face book and emails to socialise and interact, along with your work and when you feel like taking a short break.

Now it is lunch time and you have your lunch on your desk since by now you have become a true desk jokey, as you punch your PC and eat your lunch. Is it any wonder then that orthopedists call static posture the biggest health problem for anyone with a desk job? Things are not much better for those staying at home – if you are like most adults ,you finish cooking in a jiffy after which you slouch on the sofa and either watch TV or on the internet for more than two hours at a stretch, or chatting with friends or supervising our children’s home work, all of which adds to the toll at the end of the day. On the whole we sit more and move less.

The Dormant menace

What could be so treacherous about sitting? Believing it or not, sitting for long period of time can play havoc on your back muscles. You may think your body is at rest, but actually the muscles in your back are still working to keep you upright. Yet, because you are not moving around, your circulation slows down with several harmful side effects.

To start with, sitting for too long period of time tightens and shortens your hamstrings and the muscles present in front of your hips. How does this hurt your back?

When you stand, these muscles tug on the ligaments around your pelvis, which can alter the natural curve of your back. Secondly, when the muscles stay in unchanged positions, waste products, called metabolites accumulate and these can cause inflammatory reactions in the muscles, which in turn causes pain. These metabolites are usually washed away by your blood flow, but when you don’t move much, they hold their ground. This is a vicious cycle. Pain can lead to more contractions of the muscles or spasms which makes you even less likely to want to move and it goes on !

Poor circulation also means that muscles don’t get the oxygen and other nutrients they need to help them do their job. One may not experience any snap or crackling pain but the muscles start to get weaker and tire easily. Say after 6 – 9 months of this full throttle sitting you want to spring clean your house and work on it for a couple of hours and that’s when you get acute pain in your muscles. Weak muscles get pulled and tear easily and when this happens you will have to rest and wait for the muscles to repair themselves.

Constant pressure and load on your back

Muscle pulls and tears are just half the story ! Sitting still inflicts constant pressure or load, as they call it in the back business – on the disks of your lower spine, which is the spongy cartilage that acts as a cushion between the adjacent vertebrae. Constant sitting puts 40 percent more pressure on the disks than standing. That is because your pelvis rotates slightly when you sit, flattening the spine’s natural curve. Slouching makes it even worse. Some people have the habit of slouching or lying down and reading which is very bad for the back.

According to medical journals , over a period of time that kind of constant and prolonged pressure combined with poor circulation to the area, can cause the disks to deteriorate and finally rupture . When that happens, the gel inside the disk seeps out and puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Usually the disk heals itself although you may have to undergo several painful weeks before it happens, but in the most severe cases surgery may be necessary !

When we think of the enormity of this we may panic and think that we may need a small army of specialists to put our back on track. But believe me the solution is simple and within one’s reach. I am giving below a few simple strategies that help all of us keep out of doctors clinic and our backs out of trouble!

Fidget all day

There are some people who can never sit still even for a minute, they keep fidgeting around all the time. Shifting around and fidgeting is definitely better than sitting still because it changes the load on your lower spine. If you must sit then at least cross your legs , cross them the other way, twist in your chair and every half an hour stand and stretch yourself trying to reach a file at the farthest corner (but do not twist or stretch at an unnatural angle) or simply walk a few steps.

However sitting for a long period of time with legs crossed can also be painful since it causes stress in your sacroiliac joints ( where your hip bones join your spine). Lean back on your chair whenever possible , because by transferring the load to your back you reduce pressure on your disks by as much as 15 per cent. Most importantly, make sure to take frequent breaks.

Get yourself a good chair

When you have to work all day in front of a computer or simply sit and do your work, at least make sure that you sit on a chair that protects your back. A chair with a good lumbar support will go a long way in protecting your back. Ensure that the chair has adjustable back, arm rests and height so that when you sit your feet are flat on the ground and your lower back rests against the curve of the chair.

Most office goers get back pain because of their sitting position and the chair that they sit on which may be adding on to the pain.

Sleep in a back friendly position

We spend almost 7 -8 hours in a day sleeping at night, Sleeping on your stomach can hyper extend your lower back and put pressure on your pelvic joints. Worse, if you prop up your head with pillows and turn it to the side, you are stressing your neck and upper muscles too.

To give rest to your spine sleeping flat on your back with a pillow under the knees is very comforting especially when you have some discomfort in your back. You can also sleep on your side with your knees slightly bent and a pillow between your legs. This keeps the shoulders better aligned with the hips, which in turn keeps the spine in its natural line. So, it is essential that we take care of our back while sleeping.

Preventive -exercises

Exercise helps

As we can see every single health problem can be solved through regular exercise. Sedentary behavior is a strong predictor of back pain. Studies show that when people exercise and remain in good shape through regular activities like swimming, aerobics or walking have reduced risk of injury to the back. However for those interested in weight lifting ( it has caught up in a big way with both men and women these days ) overdoing it can cause some discomfort to back muscles. It is advisable to stay in balance.

People also tend to lift themselves from the upper body like a crane which forces the bent over back to do all the work and lets the legs off. Instead if we lift ourselves in a straight movement lifting the entire body as a whole the pressure gets distributed. When you have to carry heavy objects make sure that the object is close to your body at waist level. When you turn first point your feet in the direction in which you are turning so that you don’t twist your back.

Give up smoking

If you are a smoker it is in your interest to give it up for good. Smoking interferes with the circulation that nourishes the back disks and is related to a higher incidence of back problems. Many studies have shown that smokers have a poorer prognosis in the event of a back injury especially one that requires surgery and long period of recovery.

Some tips on active sitting

1, If your back trouble stems from sitting too much and you cannot avoid sitting the best antidote is to simplify this. Get up and move every now and then. How you sit can also make a big difference to the health of your spine. In addition to taking frequent breaks you should alternate as much as possible between the correct seated position for typing and a more mobile way of occupying your chair.

2, Most office chairs have a lumbar support that restores the normal curve of the spine, thereby minimising pressure on your disks. If on the other hand it is too high ( because you are either short or of medium height) try to sit on a firm pillow. And, if it is too low ( because you are tall) you need to get an adjustable chair. Just in case your chair doesn’t have a lumbar support , try tucking in a pillow behind your lower back just where it curves.

3, When you are typing or writing on your desk, make sure that your feet remain flat on the ground. However don’t be rigid in this position since shifting around is good for your back. Try to stretch your legs in front of you every now and then and when you get back to your typing keep them flat.

4, How you position your head is also important. Since most office jobs these days are t do with computers, you should be able to look straight ahead at your computer screen. If you have to constantly tilt or turn your head you are only putting too much stress on your neck and back.

When your back calls it quits

 When you have serious back pain the best immediate treatment is of course bed rest. Lie flat to avoid placing any pressure on the disks. The following measures can come in handy.

*Apply ice to the sore spot. Take a pain reliever if necessary if the back pain is unbearable

*Let the severity of pain and common sense dictate you as to how long you remain flat on your back since doctors say that you should not sleep for more than 24 hours at a stretch. Prolonged inactivity can actually worsen the condition because the muscles become stiff and weak. So, normally doctors encourage patients with bad back to walk around and take up light activities as soon as they can. Movement is nourishing to the spine since it pumps fluids into the disks keeping them spongy and therefore best able to act as shock absorbers.

* Once you are back on your feet , you will be able to gauge the extent of your discomfort and decide on the next course of action !

When to see a Doctor ?

What I have given above are just guidelines for those who have severe backache and they do help in alleviating pain to a great extent. However there are certain conditions such as herniated disk that requires professional treatment . So any of the following symptoms should send you to the doctor since it is beyond any measures.

1 When you have severe persistent pain which has been unresponsive to any kind of treatment, rest or pain killers.

2, Numbness and alternating pain or when you have a tingling sensation in the arm, legs or chest accompanied with back pain.


Back pain should never be neglected since it can become chronic with time. Once you take the above remedial measures and make changes in your lifestyle you can keep back problems away to a great extent. Some regular exercise routines like Stomach crunch, push -ups and Cat stretch can prove to be very helpful for strengthening your back. However, when you are convinced that your back needs to be looked at by a doctor , consult one immediately without any delay so that there is no further complication.

( images - wikimedia library)

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