The early warn­ing signs of a bad back

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY - By Daniel Wray

A STIFF sec­tion of spine in the lower back is of­ten the ini­tial stage in the devel­op­ment of lower back pain. A stiff sec­tion of spine is like hav­ing a stiff link in a bi­cy­cle chain. That stiff sec­tion is un­able to ab­sorb shock and can there­fore be more sus­cep­ti­ble to in­jury or strain. Of­ten acute lower back prob­lems where peo­ple may de­scribe “put­ting their back out” are a re­sult of this stiff seg­ment fail­ing to deal with a rel­a­tively nor­mal move­ment such as bend­ing. WHAT CAUSES A STIFF SPINE? SEDEN­TARY life­styles are the main cul­prit in de­vel­op­ing a stiff spine and re­sul­tant lower back pain. In be­tween ev­ery ver­te­bra that make up our spine are shock ab­sorb­ing in­ter-ver­te­bral discs which de­pend upon var­ied move­ment to cre­ate pres­sure changes that stim­u­late healthy fluid ex­change and main­tain disc height and health. With ex­ces­sive sit­ting and seden­tary pos­ture, the health and func­tion of th­ese discs grad­u­ally be­comes com­pro­mised. The fluid in­side the disc is squeezed out at a rate greater than which it is re­plen­ished lead­ing to grad­ual ero­sion of the entire spinal seg­ment. A history of pre­vi­ous back in­jury, ma­jor or mi­nor, will nor­mally re­sult in some level of mus­cle spasm which func­tions to pro­tect the in­jured seg­ment while in­flam­ma­tion sub­sides. If the mus­cle spasm fails to set­tle even after mi­nor in­jury this can re­in­force the stiff link in the spine. This is nor­mally be­cause of anx­i­ety and fear to move the back fol­low­ing in­jury which, while be­ing a com­pletely nor­mal re­ac­tion, can make it dif­fi­cult to break the pain and spasm cy­cle, ul­ti­mately pro­long­ing re­cov­ery. Ab­dom­i­nal weak­ness which is com­mon in the seden­tary pop­u­la­tion can fur­ther com­pro­mise the discs and spinal seg­ments by fail­ing to pro­vide sta­bil­ity and sup­port of the spine al­low­ing pos­tural col­lapse and in­creas­ing pres­sure on the seg­ments at the base of the spine. WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT? The pri­or­ity must be to re­duce and rid your back of mus­cle spasm and im­prove the move­ment through the stiff seg­ment. In acute si­t­u­a­tions, this can be more dif­fi­cult and it may take longer un­til sig­nif­i­cant ex­er­cise is pos­si­ble but there is nearly al­ways some form of ap­pro­pri­ate ex­er­cise that will im­prove move­ment while re­duc­ing mus­cle spasm. Try to em­brace move­ments that you can do with lit­tle to no pain and that cause no in­crease in mus­cle spasm. Be­low are some sim­ple ex­er­cises to try and that should be ap­pro­pri­ate in all stages of spinal stiff­ness even with acute pain: 1: Rock knees to chest: Lie on your back on the floor or bed Brace back by suck­ing your navel in hard Us­ing your hand be­hind one thigh pull the leg up to your chest, re­peat with the other leg

With hands rest­ing gen­tly on knees move your legs so your thighs rest at 90 de­grees

Gen­tly os­cil­late in this po­si­tion – sub­tle move­ment no more than a few cen­time­tres

Per­form this move­ment for 20-30 sec­onds and for 3-5 sets mul­ti­ple times daily 2: Re­verse curl ups Lie on your back on the floor or bed Take one knee then the other to your chest In­ter­lace fin­gers be­hind your head, cross your an­kles and let your knees fall apart while low­er­ing legs so thighs are 90 de­grees

By lift­ing your bot­tom clear of the floor use your tummy to bring knees un­der chin

Re­lax and lower your legs no lower than 90 de­grees en­sur­ing not to arch your back

Re­peat 15-20 times with in­creas­ing speed only if it does not cause any pain 3: Rolling along spine Lie on the floor on a yoga mat or towel Bring your knees up with your hands be­hind your thighs in­ter­lac­ing your fin­gers

Lift your head and neck up so your lower back makes a wide rounded ‘U’ shape

Once in po­si­tion rock back and for­wards along the spine with small move­ments

At­tempt to pivot on the stiff spine sec­tion which will have a bruised bone feel

Rock for 20-30 sec­onds try­ing to re­lax as much as pos­si­ble. Re­peat 3-5 times. A word of cau­tion There may be some peo­ple who can­not per­form th­ese move­ments with­out in­creas­ing pain or mus­cle spasm. In this case please do not pro­ceed with­out con­sult­ing a health care pro­fes­sional. The ded­i­cated team at Physio Ef­fect pro­vides a full pack­age of ser­vices that will en­sure you’re sup­ported through in­jury preven­tion, as­sess­ment, re­cov­ery and help­ing you achieve your ul­ti­mate per­for­mance goals. We of­fer a range of ser­vices: phys­io­ther­apy, sports mas­sage, pi­lates, yoga and mo­bil­ity. Unit 18B, 100 Bor­ron Street, Glasgow, G49XG; www.ev­ery­day­ath­let­e­ www.phys­io­ef­

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