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About Neck and Back Pain

Back and neck problems interfere with quality of life and work performance and are extremely common in Australia and across all population groups. Estimates from the ABS National Health Survey show about 3.7 million Australians (16% of the population) have back problems. Low back pain will affect up to 85% of us at some point in our lives and is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world.

What causes back pain?

There is no single cause of back pain. It is not a disease but a collection of symptoms and signs and the nature of the problem varies from one individual to the next.

There are many risk factors that have been associated with the onset of back pain. Some of these are;

  • Age : Neck and back problems tend to increase with age
  • Family history of back pain
  • History of back injury
  • History of back surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • Having had compression fractures of the spine
  • History of prior back surgery

As well as Lifestyle factors such as;

  • Not getting regular exercise
  • Smoking. People who smoke are more likely than people who don't smoke to have low back pain
  • Doing a job or other activity that requires long periods of sitting, heavy lifting, bending or twisting, repetitive motions, or constant vibration
  • Poor posture. This may not cause back or neck pain by itself, but poor posture increases mechanical stress on parts of the spine which are then more likely to become painful
  • Being under stress. Stress and other emotional factors are believed to play a significant role in back pain, particularly chronic low back pain. Many people unconsciously tighten their back and neck muscles when they are under stress

Back and neck pain also occurs in people who have none of the above risk factors. Acute back pain and movement restriction often occur seemingly from out of the blue, or after an everyday movement such as reaching to pick up a toothbrush or sneezing.

We still have a lot to learn about back pain.

What to do?

Preventing and managing back pain is sometimes easier said than done but doing what we can to control the lifestyle factors above is a good start.

1. Exercise is extremely important. It is useful to engage in a range of physical activities to make the body move in different ways. It is helpful to do some endurance exercise on a regular basis as well as strengthening and stretching or flexibility exercise.
2. Don't smoke. You've heard it all before but giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health.
3. Have a good look at your work posture and the activities you do habitually. These things we do habitually generate muscular and structural patterns that greatly influence our proneness to mechanical pain and dysfunction.
4. Try to become aware of how you hold your body and how you move. Try to develop good postural habits to stand as tall as you can. Try to correct the tendency to slouch in chairs or when driving. Becoming aware of your posture is the first step.
5. Try to manage stress. This is important for managing your over all health as well as back pain. Things you can do to help in this area are:

  • Exercise. The evidence that exercise helps your mind as well as your body just keeps growing
  • Avoid stressors. Try to take a break from the thing or things that are stressing you
  • Smile and laugh often. Research tells us this is helpful
  • Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness help to quieten the background level of the "fight or flight" response. Doing this regularly is very helpful

The role of treatment in neck and back pain.

Treatment can be extremely helpful in managing back and neck pain. Soft tissue soreness and tension, and joint restriction and dysfunction are significant components in back and neck pain. I use osteopathic manual treatment techniques to normalise muscle and soft tissue tension and reduce pain, as well as a range of joint mobilisation and manipulation techniques where appropriate to restore normal mobility to restricted and painful spinal joints. I also use acupuncture in combination with osteopathic treatment in the management of acute and chronic back and neck pain. Advice on movement and exercise is an integral part of treatment of back pain.