Dealing With Chronic Back Pain in Lockdown and Beyond
by Tim Hanwell
If we get out of bed one morning with a bit of back pain, the chances are we’re unlikely to do anything about it. It’s easy to put it down to ‘just one of those things’ that will take care of itself. We have no idea how or why it happened, but we shrug it off as something everyone has to put up with now and then. A few days later, when the pain still hasn’t subsided, we might try some over-the counter pain relief such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
It’s only probably a week or two later when the pain has become quite debilitating that we might take ourselves off to the GP, who has a whole cabinet of pain relief and muscle relaxants that’s bound to do the trick.
By now, if all this has failed, we might start considering Pilates, yoga, swimming, acupuncture and hot and cold packs to change the blood flow to the body.
The trouble is that we are now possibly three or four weeks into the problem and there has been little relief from the pain, which can be depressing and debilitating.
What can you do while in lockdown?
During lockdown there are still a number of self-help tips which you can follow to help yourself.
If you have an acute musculoskeletal injury, (this is where there has been a sudden onset of pain often due to a memorable incident, and the injured area may feel hot and swollen) often placing an ice pack (wrapped in a towel to avoid ice burning the skin) on the injured area for 5 minutes, then removing for 5 minutes and repeating, will help ease the pain.
If your symptoms are stiffer in nature, with no memorable injury, then movement and heat can often be beneficial. Taking anti-inflammatories or arnica could help improve your symptoms, or rubbing gels and creams into the painful site might help too.
Since lockdown, we have been seeing an increased number of people suffering from pain due to poor posture whilst sitting at their PC/laptop at home. This is usually non-traumatic in nature, but more of a repetitive nature causing neck, shoulder or arm pains. Adjusting your workstation setup is usually a good starting point. Try to avoid sitting for more than 45 minutes at a time and make sure you take your daily allowance of fresh air; this is not only beneficial for your musculoskeletal system but also for your circulation, eye health and mental well-being.
Simple stretches to help offset the hours of sitting are also beneficial. I recommend the cat/cow, pectoral stretches, hamstring, calf and hip flexor stretches. There are plenty of free-to-view yoga websites if you are unsure of these techniques. Also remember that many osteopathic and physio clinics are still offering advice over the phone or videocall during lockdown if you require one-to-one help.
Once lockdown is over, you can seek help
The next obvious step to alleviating long-term back pain is a visit to the osteopath or a physiotherapist.
An osteopath will generally aim to stretch and loosen up the muscles and joints through mobilisation and manipulation, while an NHS physiotherapist will tend to opt for a series of exercise-based treatments.
If these don’t work, it is at this point that the patient will begin to consider steroid injections and surgery. These are a last resort that people reach out for when they have tried absolutely everything else.
Around 6 years ago I was in that hopeless position myself, in such terrible pain that I was considering surgery. People forget that osteopaths and physiotherapists often suffer back pain themselves due to the physical requirements of their work.
Whilst I was researching spinal surgery online, I discovered IDD therapy, and I felt it could offer me the relief I was looking for. My pain had been caused by a compression injury and the decompression IDD therapy offered made complete sense.
By my third session I was starting to feel better, and I even got back the power in my big toe that I didn’t even realise I had lost. I was so impressed that I bought a machine for my own practice.
IDD is a computer-controlled treatment that helps decompress the specific spinal segment causing the pain. Patients lie on a treatment couch, where they are connected to a machine with a pelvic and a chest harness. The machine applies a gentle pulling force at a precise angle to take pressure off the targeted disc and to gently mobilise the joint and surrounding muscles. Patients typically have a programme of IDD therapy, and long-term problems can need 20 sessions over a six- to eight-week period.
What is unique is the angle of the stretch. Most of the time our bodies are being pressed into the ground due to gravity. Nothing really stretches the spine like this does. The goal is to relieve muscle spasm, and as the pain subsides, therapists use gentle manual therapy to strengthen the back.
A patient recently contacted me to say she had run a marathon after her course of IDD. Although she had been a runner in the past, she believed her days of pounding the streets were well and truly over.
Around three quarters of people with long-term back pain who come for IDD therapy get completely better, and many more see a marked improvement. IDD therapy aims to reduce the back pain to the extent that it is either no longer present, or, at worst, is so mild that it has no detrimental effect on daily life.
When we get people out of pain and moving again, the aim is that they can get on with their lives and that reinforces the progress.
About the author:
Tim Hanwell is the Principal Osteopath and Director of IDD Therapy at Berkhamsted Osteopaths and an osteopath at the London School of Economics Treatment Clinic in London.
IDD Therapy (Intervertebral Differential Dynamics) or is the fastest growing non-surgical spinal treatment for intervertebral discs with over 1,000 clinics worldwide and a network of clinics across the UK. http://iddtherapy.co.uk/
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