Writer: PETA BEE | Outlet: Daily Mail
In the past 12 months alone, over a third of the population has suffered back problems, says the charity BackCare. For some the agony is fleeting, but for many it can last for weeks, months, and even years.
Why has back pain become so common? According to leading physiotherapist Sarah Key, our sedentary lifestyle, and the fact that we are taller and heavier than we used to be, are to blame.
As she explains in her new book, the Back Sufferer's Bible, most back pain has the same physical cause - one or more of the discs between the vertebrae of the spine dry out and stiffen, as a result of inactivity, poor posture, obesity or injury.
"A normal, healthy human spine is an upright, bendy column," says Key, who counts Prince Charles among her many well-known clients. "It rises out of the pelvis in three gentle curves, like a cobra from a basket, its S-shape helping to hold it upright."
But if a spinal disc dries out, the vertebra above that disc loses mobility and back problems can develop.
"All of us are walking around with spines riddled with 'stiff links', never knowing they are there,' says Key.
"In many cases - particularly in the lower spine, which carries more weight - the link can become so stiff that it gets painful. This is the chief cause of common or garden backache."
From that point, the problem is progressive. Key explains there are five stages, from the initial stiffness described above to the worstcase scenario - an unstable spinal segment, which can leave you almost unable to walk, and possibly in need of surgery.
"The good news," says Key, "is that the right therapy almost anywhere along the route of spinal breakdown can stop it in its tracks and turn it around - even with slipped discs."
Some of her advice is controversial. For instance, she recommends bed rest when pain is acute, or touching your toes on a daily basis both to prevent and treat back pain - this is the opposite of current advice to keep moving and avoid straining.
She also says people who deliberately spare their backs by bending their knees are actually doing themselves harm - "unless an item is extremely heavy (in which case lift it with bent knees), you must get your back to do the work; lifting the detergent from under the sink or any other similar daily chores should be done by bending over."
Key says: "Many myths have built up over recent years about how to deal with back pain, and much of what is widely publicised is wrong."
As for Pilates, often billed as a backprotective form of exercise, she describes it as "something I don't like at all - it focuses too much on the core strength (strong abdominal muscles) and puts the back at risk by not developing the spinal muscles".
Here, she identifies the five key stages of back pain. Work out which best describes your problem, then follow her instructions about which of the exercises on the page opposite will work best for you.
Remember, if you are in severe pain, consult your GP, physiotherapist or a specialist at a back clinic.
A STIFF BACK (STAGE 1)
A stiff back after a long car trip or sleeping in a different bed. It's not painful, but you have a vague awareness that something is wrong.
It can continue for years - but don't be complacent because the problem will be getting worse.
The simplest movement, such as turning over in bed, can trigger acute inflammation, leading to an intense, smarting, aching soreness across the centre of the back.
This is often too tender to touch and is coupled with a hot, throbbing sensation under the skin. Sitting is uncomfortable and lying down can be worse because your back feels tender.
The My Stretch Bar is the perfect stretching machine to help you increase flexibility. Perfect for those that cant reach their toes and those that can. Simple and easy to use. Versatile in the fact that you can do 18 different stretches in around 15 minutes