FEELING GREAT: Answers to back pain questions

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These last few weeks I’ve received a lot of questions from readers on the topic of back pain.

And what I thought I’d do is answer them all in one go for you to learn from.

And just before you look over the questions and my answers, it’s worth noting that episodes of back pain are a lot more likely in the middle of winter – thanks largely due to the level of inactivity meaning your lower back is more likely to get stiff and tight – and the increase in the amount of sitting with adds 10X the pressure on your spine when you do it for any significant length of time.

My tip: any chance you get, get up and get out for a simple walk – even 15-20 minutes each day will make all the difference.

Here’s the questions from readers:

Q) Why would my back pain get worse when I stand or walk for more than 10 minutes – yet when I lean forward or sit, it goes almost instantly? (Alan, 63.)

A) I’d say you’re likely suffering from something called “spinal stenosis” which is when the nerves in your lower back are being touched because of arthritis (which narrows the space in the joints of your lower back). And when you stand up straight, the space is reduced even further. But when you sit – like Alan says – the pain almost goes instantly and that happens because of the space opening in those joints when you’re in the sitting or leaning position. It’s only temporarily though and will only get worse, your walking restricted even more the longer it gets left.

Q) “Paul, I’m told by my GP that rest and cream is the best thing for my chronic bad back (9 years +). It’s just got gradually worse over the years and it’s the fact it’s starting to slow me down, more so than the pain, that concerns me. Does this advice from my Dr. sound appropriate to you?” (Jenny, 79.)

A) If you’re suffering with a back problem that is slowing you down – then rest and cream is NOT the answer. You’ll feel slower and more sluggish because the muscles are already doing less – in essence, what’s happening is your muscles are not being used because they’re weak and tired, and so you think your best option is to rest – only that’s making everything worse.

Sounds like you’re on a “self-perpetuating cycle” Jenny. We can help you with things like massage, and some really simple exercises that anyone can do – even my 103 years old patient from Darlington who came to me recently with a similar complaint. Oh, and about the “creams” – they’re a TOTAL waste of time and money and only giving you false hope.

Q) Why does sitting make back pain worse?

A) Simply, there’s 10X the pressure on your spine when you sit than when you do anything else. It’s a sign that muscles are weak. If pain comes on less than 20 minutes after you sit, you’ve got a problem and to fix it, begin something like pilates.

Q) Why does my back pain keep coming and then going away a few days later?

A) Your back is WEAK! and it’s a warning sign that something is wrong. Some people think that the “nice” phase means everything is ok, when it’s actually the time to go get something done! Eventually the “nice” few days get less and less and eventually these days go – and people walk into a physio clinic “bent over double”.

So there you go, your questions answered. There’ll be more on back pain in next weeks column too. And if you want your health questions answered by me please send them to: paul@paulgoughphysio.com.