Becoming Back Care Aware

Hello all and I hope you're having a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

Today is the final day of BackCare Awareness Week in the UK. With 131 million days lost at work in 2013 due to sickness - the most common complaint being back, neck and muscle pain, I thought this was worth talking about here on the blog today. I believe it's something we should all be aware of - and we have probably already or will at some point experience somewhere along the line in our daily and working lives. Plus I'll be looking at some suggestions for keeping strong whilst sitting at your desk!

In the past I've had my own trouble with neck and lower back pain. At its worst it travelled down into the side of my leg causing a sciatic like pain - for anyone who has ever experienced this you will know how incredibly painful and indeed really frustrating this can be. I guess I've had trouble like this on and off for a lot of my adult life especially since giving up dancing on a regular basis which for a long time was what kept my core strong.

For me I believe the trouble really kicked into high gear when I started to work for myself on this blog and other projects from home. I was spending large amounts of time at my desk, sometimes well into the night and not taking as many breaks as I might do on a normal day in the office. In fact I think the initial tweak that caused this particular period of pain came from laying on the floor in a number of odd positions trying to get good photos of various objects for the blog. I move without thinking and then do myself harm! Yet the truth is that it's all down to this underlying weakness which I know I need to address.

Now I'm lucky to have a desk, a computer set at a decent height and a reasonably good ergonomically designed office chair. For those of you secretly working away on your laptops in your bedrooms beware! The damage to your skeletal system, as confirmed to me by an Osteopath with first hand experience of dealing with us bloggers, could well be long term and it's something that really needs addressing before things get too bad. For this very reason, now that the pain in my leg has subsided and I am able to exercise again, I've personally been seeking out ways to re-strengthen my core strength and am becoming increasingly more aware of how I move even in ordinary day to day life. Trying to ensure I protect my body for the longer term. It's a retraining of the mind as well as the body but it's worth it. 

You may have read a post I did a while ago about POWMAK a Pilates Studio based in Windsor where I live, a great team of experienced trainers led by Sam whose philosophy is very much focused on creating a long term core strength for a healthy body. When POWMAK told me they were teaming up with well known fitness brand Sweaty Betty to offer a weekend of in-store activities focused on strength and back care awareness I was excited to pop along, have a go and find out even more tips and advice. 

I learnt that I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. It's so interesting when you try out the exercises that POWMAK offer just how quickly you find out you are using other muscles in your body to compensate for the weakness in your core.

From tensing the shoulders and neck, gripping with the wrong part of your feet and using far too much upper body strength, one go on the Pilates machines provided by POWMAK will show you just where you're going wrong. As well as quickly help you to kick the right muscles into gear because without doing so you pretty much won't get anywhere fast!

Working in this way and trying out these exercises really helps to highlight the undue pressure that you put on your back if you're not working effectively. The reality is that if you have that weakness then it's this kind of pressure that you're putting on your muscles, ligaments and general skeletal system on a daily basis and it's this continued misuse that will cause long term pain and problems - especially in a digital age where our focus on technology continues to grow and our practice of physical activity continues in many ways to diminish.

If you live nearby then I urge you to pop in and say hello to the POWMAK team who are also at the Windsor Sweaty Betty store today until 4pm. Or why not pop in and say hello at their studio.  You could also give the gift of strength to a loved one this Christmas with one of their new gift vouchers redeemable against any of their studio activities.

If you aren't Windsor based then why not have a look at similar places in your local area and see if you can pop in and give a session a try. I really think you'll find the benefits are worthwhile. 

When it comes to what else I've learnt about dealing with back pain in a work environment well I recommend looking at this NHS article here for some very useful advice.

I also remember being told how very important it is that when working daily at a desk, you force yourself to take regular breaks. Now it's so easy to get carried away and forget to do this especially if you don't have colleagues around you to encourage you to go for a morning tea break! Yet it's so important. 

I recently came across a very useful app called quite simply BreakTime that allows you to program in an alarm at whatever interval you chose. It will then go off at that regular interval (for example every 45 minutes) and will time the length of break that you have chosen to take.

During that break, if you have the space then it's best to take some light exercise or movement to get everything up and running again! If you are suffering from sciatica then the exercises in this video are really helpful. In fact I find them helpful just for back pain in general as they feel like a very gentle massage for the irritated areas as well as being very beneficial. Obviously you need some privacy and space to be able to do this but even in a busy office you may be able to find a quiet meeting room to take a moment to remember to look after yourself. It's worth it and it's very, very important.

Remember your back is for life and it's the only one you're gonna get!

Do you suffer from back or neck pain especially at work? What do you do to help with this problem?