Is a demanding work schedule and a hectic lifestyle taking it’s toll on the health of your spine? You are not alone: back pain is a major source of distress, time off work, and spiralling health care costs in the developed world. What can you do to create a healthy lifestyle and take care of your back to reduce pain and keep your spine in peak condition?
First, make your health a priority. Schedule time for rest and exercise. Make sure you have a regular routine and don’t give yourself excuses: you will pay for it later! Get enough sleep; it is your body’s best natural defence. Healing from injuries and fighting infections takes place predominantly while you rest, so don’t burn the candle at both ends for extended periods. That might mean you have to leave work on time, or book time off after a big project, to ensure you don’t interfere with your body’s much needed recovery time. Get enough exercise. Accountability is key: many people sign up for a weekly class or get help from a personal trainer to make sure they commit to exercising regularly. Set goals and stick to them. Negotiate with family or colleagues to make sure you balance your workload and leave time to devote to your regular body maintenance… to keep you performing at your peak.
Second, prevention is better than cure. Keep up your flexibiltiy and strength training so your spine is resilient and bounces back quickly when you have a stessful day at work or have to lift that extra shopping back. Keep challenging yourself: try new activities or change your workout so you don’t get stale. Consult a physiotherapist about your unique physiology, to help you build up the muscular strength and proprioceptve control to support any weaknesses. Get a good coach, teacher or personal trainer to watch your form while you exercise, to ensure you don’t develop any bad habits that could lead to injury later. Make time for a regular massage once a month, to help you catch tension or inflammation when it starts, before it develops into a bigger problem.
Third, don’t wait to get treatment. Feel a twinge in your lower back? Pinch in your neck? Consult a professional. Muscular stiffness can easily be relieved with massage, and you can be referred to allied professionals like an osteopath or physiotherapist if your problem is more serious. Over time
Best practice includes regular commitment to exercise
Control of schedule
Negotiating with colleagues and managers
Regular preventative treatment
Get problems seen to before they become serious
Monitor weak areas
If you know you have a recurring problem with your spine, it really helps to get regular checkups and know who to call
When you start to feel pain, what do you do?
– check the basics: are you sleeping, eating well and exercising regularly?
– are you under extra stress or pressure from workload or family demands?
First line: move your body.
– Stand up, do roll downs, stretch, mobilise. Circle the body part. Use your hands to gently massage the area. Are there any trigger points that give you relief?
– Use equipment: get a foam roller and fitness ball. Do passive stretches using these elements to help. Roll up a towel or use a tennis ball. Do yoga or other general stretches. Does it help?
– Do strengthening and core stability exercises: use your whole body. Engage your major muscle groups. Sometimes something will move back into place when your whole body engages. Focus on: exercises that engage the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and core. Movements that elongate the spine and use curves, spirals, gentle twists and rotations. Move the head and neck: sometimes problems lower down can be relieved by releasing tension in this area. Does it feel better?
– Get help: Sometimes your body becomes “fixed” or “stuck” in an unhealthy position. You might have needed this to create stability under stress, but now your muscle memory is trapped in an unhealthy position. Get a massage to release muscle tension. Get manipulation to relieve pressure caused by joint imbalances. Consult a physiotherapist to optimise your exercise programme to strengthen your problem areas.
– Commit to regular maintenance: find a gym or a class that is fun that you will go to regularly. Get help from a personal trainer, even if you can only afford a few sessions, use them to start good habits, and check back in to stay motivated and accountable. Negotiate with your colleagues to make sure you can get to that lunchtime class or leave work on time to get to the gym. Even if you have to take a break and come back to work later, a fit and healthy body will encourage your mind to be at it’s most productive.
– Work for more than 2-3 hours on the same task. Your body and brain need refreshment. Take a break to do something physical – walking meeting? stand up to make a phone call? change to a different task that engages a different part of your body and brain – and come back to it after 30-60minutes if necessary.
– Ignore pain. Your body is telling you that something is not right, and ignoring will not make it go away.
– Skip your regular exercise commitments (unless you have an acute injury or are ill: be honest with yourself)
– Keep saying yes to more commitments without re-prioritising/negotiating
– Keep regular exercise commitments
– Make yourself accountable – get a training buddy or commit to a regular class or course
– Do your own maintenance – 10 mins stretching in the morning and afternoon will work wonders
– Get regular checkups – for your spine and muscles as well as your blood pressure! (You’d be surprised at how much difference a healthy body makes to your productivity and stress levels)
– Negotiate with colleagues and management to spread the workload. Prioritise what’s most important – including your health!
– Have fun! Life’s too short to be stressed and unhealthy. Choose activities that make you excited to go to them – no matter how niche. Your friends and colleagues will admire your dedication and adventurousness for going off the beaten track!
– Schedule time to wind down and relax: weekly massage, don’t take work home at least one evening a week, have a weekend day totally free of commitments every fortnight or every month, use your holiday allowance. Don’t push yourself to breaking point when health, work quality and relationships start to suffer.
– Question your assumptions: IS this piece of work really urgent? DO you need to stay at work til 9pm? CAN you afford not to take a break?