Lockdown has been a challenging and different way of life in so many ways. As physiotherapists, we have noticed a major change in lifestyle and patients’ daily postures and activity levels. Where people will have walked, cycled possibly even ran to work, the commute now is just a few small steps down the stairs. In virtual sessions, I often see one recurring issue – ‘lockdown back pain’.
In this blog, I will explain why you may be getting ‘lockdown back pain’ and how you can alleviate pain with movement and simple stretches.
Effects of reduced activity levels
One of the main changes in our lives has been our activity levels. Being restricted to leaving the house once a day, and only going out for essentials or one bout of exercise is not conducive to a happy body. The body loves movement, and your back is no different.
Your back is the platform that allows all other things to move and work. It provides stability so our arms can reach for things out of the cupboard, or for our legs to drive us forward when we run. Every moment our limbs are active, muscles around our back contract to control the most important part of our movement anatomy, the spine. If activity is reduced, our spine won’t get the structural support from these muscles, nor are they kept strong.
Like a building without supporting pillars, it will start to ‘collapse’. This is when we adopt poor postural positions. This puts excessive strain on the ligaments, tendons and vulnerable discs in our vertebra. It is at this point that we know about it and our brain says ‘whoops, I don’t like that – and here’s some pain to let you know how much I don’t like it!’
We’ve all had back pain right? A nagging, niggling, almost itchy irritating ache that doesn’t seem to go away. It can be specific to one area or spread across your back but either way, it is annoying and can prevent us from sitting comfortably or enjoying the one walk a day that we can do.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are lots of simple things you can do to help prevent back pain and recover if you are suffering. The key is movement.
Ways to alleviate back pain
One of the many misconceptions about posture is the wrestle for ‘good posture’. Now don’t get me wrong if you’re in that ‘collapsed’, slumped position I mentioned before it’s only a matter of time before your back will hurt. However, even a ‘good’, upright, shoulders back, chest out (the primary school classic) is not ‘good’ after a while. Our body was not designed to be still. The key is movement and movement variety.
Physio tip: Get out of these fixed positions regularly and do some form of activity, which will make you and your back much happier.
• Going for a few steps around the house while the kettle is boiling
• Or simple yoga stretches for a few minutes
Simple Yoga Stretches
There are three stretches from yoga though that I particularly love. They allow our body and our back to move in most of the angles of movement that our body is capable of.
The pigeon stretch – this targets primarily the muscles around your hips and lower back. On the floor, you want one leg in front of the other with the front leg in an almost cross-legged position and the back one flat and straight. If you’re upright the stretch will be slightly less, if you’re nearer to the floor the stretch will be greater. Remember to do both legs!
The cobra – lying flat on your front you want both hands on the floor as if in a press-up position. Keeping your lower body on the floor you push your upper body off the floor arching your back backwards in the process. This is a great stretch for all the muscles at the front of the body that tighten up when we are in that ‘slumped’ posture position.
The triangle pose – this is brilliant for taking our spine into a side bend, something sitting, walking or even running doesn’t do but is crucial to a happy back. In standing have your feet wider than hip-width apart with one foot facing forward and one turned out to the side. Keeping both legs straight you reach down to the foot turned out to the side aiming to look up to the ceiling. Then swap your foot position and reach to the opposite foot.
Physio tip: Pick one of these stretches to do every hour. Each stretch should be at least 30 seconds. You will need to do both sides, taking you no more than one minute.
This is a manageable amount and provides your back with the care and attention it will thank you for. They can be done to help prevent your back from getting stiff and painful or help you recover if you have developed some ‘lockdown back pain’. So remember, movement is key. The body is designed for movement and rewards us when we do.