17 december 20185 min reading time

Back pain is common with over 80% of the adult population reporting episodes of back pain at least once within their lifetime. But should this be a surprise, and if not why not?

Fundamentally our bodies have changed very little over many hundreds of years and yet following the industrial revolution our daily lives have changed dramatically. Whilst many of these changes have been for the good, in terms of standards of living, basic sanitation and overall well being, we have undoubtedly become a more sedentary race and our working lives have put us in positions of sustained posture.

Sustained postures can result in stresses and strains being placed on our passive soft tissues, our ligaments and tendons, which can lead to ‘creep’. Creep refers to the progressive deformation of bodily structures, which occurs when the structures are placed under a constant load they were not designed to handle (Mcgill, SA. 1992).

Think about the work that you do and the postures that involves? Are you an office worker that is required to sit down for a sustained period during each working day? Are you a hairdresser that stands on your feet all day with your arms raised to cut customers hair? Or are you a bricklayer that finds they are bending down for long periods each day? Is it any surprise that a high percentage of the population experiences some back pain when the jobs that we do place consistent stresses and strains on focussed areas of our bodies?

It is no surprise that we experience back pain when we consider the evidence available to us especially when we factor in anecdotal data which demonstrates that consistent areas of pain are experienced within the back which are related to the specific job roles. The big question then is if our daily lives, and particularly the work that we do, makes back pain relatively inevitable, then what can we do to help prevent it?

Clearly breaking the cycle of sustained postures over the course of each day, week, month and year is a major goal to help limit the impact of our work on our back health. This can involve taking mini breaks and stretching each day, ensuring that we pull over on a number of occasions during long car journeys etc. But we have to acknowledge that this is not always practical. As a result, we would suggest that the first step is simply acknowledging the impact that work can have on our bodies, and our back health, so we have better awareness. The second step is taking responsibility for our own health and making steps to limit the impact that sustained postures can have on our bodies.

If our bodies were not designed to perform repetitive motions, or hold sustained postures, then they were designed to move. We owe it to ourselves, and our long-term back health, to ensure that we undertake regular exercise in order to move our bodies, and help strengthen those areas that will help counteract the impact that sustained workloads can have on our back health. Clearly this involves gaining advice on what exercises are relevant, and safe, but with the right resources that shouldn’t be difficult. Armed with this information we need to commit to exercise each week in order to build strength, improve posture and ultimately develop the resilience that will help to prevent back pain, and ultimately improve our overall back health.

McGill SM, Brown S. Creep response of the lumbar spine to prolonged full flexion. Clin Biomech. 1992;7:43-46