Back pain is an ‘interesting creature’ says Nick Potter, Consultant Osteopath at the Princess Grace Hospital, who has worked for 25 years in two of the leading spinal units in London.
For years, it was treated as a purely structural problem; being seen as stemming from degeneration of and injury to the various elements of the spine (ligaments, muscles, discs). The results of MRI scans, CT and x-rays became the deciding factor in the treatment patients received. ‘We began to treat the imaging and not the patient’ he says. This often worked for the traumatic or acute injuries but they were a small part of the ‘back-pain population’. Furthermore, they did not explain the dilemma of why some patients with very healthy looking scans had sometimes agonising pain and some with very damaged looking spines, had almost no pain at all. The overwhelming majority of patients who have pain do the exact opposite of overstraining their spines; they actually do very little at all.
Pain is a fascinating thing, and our understanding of it has made a paradigm change in the last few years. It is defined as an ‘experience’, not a sensation because of its nature, quality and type is different for everyone and has many elements to it. In fact, we now know that the only part of the body, which can sense or feel pain, is the brain.
See more: A Pain in the Back
Most back and neck pain stems from small, cumulative bad habits, which we all do on a daily basis. Add in the inactivity of sitting at a desk all day and spinal pain is the end result.
Back Pain is further affected by emotional responses. Research has shown that stressful situations or environments cause people to change their breathing pattern and rate, similar to our old primitive response to the threat of predators. This pattern forces us to use different breathing muscles that are permanently tense and become painful. It even goes as far as to change the way we think and locks us into a permanent state of anxiety. This muscular tension, over long periods, causes changes in our spinal alignment and posture. Further weakening of the ‘core’ muscles due to inactivity, leads to ‘issues in the tissues’ and the onset of ‘strain and pain’.
People are also changing their work and leisure habits. Economic austerity and a boom in entrepreneurship, brought about more people working from home and a ‘cafe’ work culture have developed the ‘laptop-latte’ generation. However, with it came more people working in a poor ergonomic environment, hunched over kitchen worktops and low coffee tables at poorly set up laptops and iPads. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ is now an over-riding problem that we have to deal with.
Longer working hours mean more exposure to computer screens and personal devices and the blue light that they emit. This profoundly affects sleep patterns and people’s mood, ability to think clearly and cope with stress and pain. Using blue light filters over screens and understanding how to improve the quality of our sleep is key to treating back pain.
Corporate workplaces are finally realising the value of standing desks for employees. They allow regular movement and shifting of posture, as well as relieve the compression on the spinal discs, so affected by sitting. What is more, they burn 80 calories more an hour without even noticing.
Years of studying this complex problem have led to new thinking around how people can be educated and empowered to help and treat themselves as well as to prevent the onset of spinal pain.
Potter had always been interested in testing research and soon discovered that due to the nature of the multiple contributory elements of back pain, outcome studies to measure the effectiveness of treatments were very unreliable, as they only studied one intervention at a time. When used in combination – ‘a multi-system approach’, treatments were much more successful. Years of clinical experimentation with ‘recipes’ of techniques gleaned fantastic results.
An ‘anti-sitting’ revolution is needed to create momentum for change. Employers and employees alike must embrace a movement culture and realise its potential for increased health, well-being and ultimately performance. Everybody wins.
The Bakpro programme has been specially devised and designed, containing elements of education, as well as pain relief, self-mobilisation, breathing and sleep hygiene. Back Pain in the U.K. costs £5 billion annually and causes suffering to so many. Bakpro offers a one-stop-shop answer to a difficult and complex problem.
For more information on back pain visit Celebrity Angels