Back pain causes misery to millions each year. But by changing just a few bad habits we can protect our backs for the future and ease the agony
some of us are already suffering. The most common way that people injure their backs is by lifting something awkwardly. It doesn’t have to be a heavy object – twisting your spine reaching for something light can be just as harmful. When lifting, make sure your thighs take the strain, not your back. Bend your knees, keep your back straight, hold the object close to you stand up slowly. Don’t carry heavy bags on one shoulder – wear a backpack or hold the bag in front of you instead.

Sitting in the same position for a long time can also play havoc with your spine – especially if you don’t sit properly. Make sure you’ve got a decent chair with good lower-back support. Sit up straight, preferably with your seat tilted slightly downwards so your knees are lower than your hips. Hold your stomach in to support your back, put both feet on the floor and never cross your legs! Good posture is just as important when you’re upright Standing awkwardly or slouching around puts a lot of pressure on the lower back. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed, neck long and your back slightly curved. Don’t stick your bottom out and hollow and your back holding your stomach in will help prevent this. It can take a while to change bad posture to good, but stretching exercises will help. Back pain is very common during pregnancy because women tend to lean backwards to look balance their weight, which in turn, curves the lower back. This can get worse after the birth when carrying your baby adds even more strain. Gentle exercise during your pregnancy can help to prevent problems.

Even in bed, your posture is important. Lie on your back or side and avoid too many pillows, which twist your neck and back. Your mattress should be firm and well-sprung, but not too hard so it’s uncomfortable. A sagging mattress will bend your back, causing stiffness and aching.
Slouching on a comfy sofa is equally bad news for backs. The worst are the very low sofas where your bottom is below your knees while you’re sitting down. Tucking your knees by your side can over-extend your hip bone and twist your spine. Choose a higher, firmer sofa where you can sit upright.

If you already suffer from back pain, don’t wear high heels. They force your lower body forwards and your upper body to arch, which puts stress on your back. Also avoid shoes with leather soles as they send shockwaves through your skeleton. Cushioned soles or shock-absorbing insoles will prevent this problem.
Now you’ve made sure you’re not doing anything to cause your backache – go on the offensive! Exercise helps prevent back pain by strengthening your spine muscles. Concentrate on exercises for your back and stomach muscles. If you’ve already got back problems, don’t be afraid of gentle exercise. A recent study showed that after eight exercise classes with a physiotherapist, patients with back pain noticed a significant improvement in their symptoms.

Case History: “My neck and back hurt all the time” Sara Donman, 43, from Ascot, Berkshire. The first time I injured my neck was when I was working as a nurse and I foolishly lifted a patient by myself.

I heard my neck click and, that evening, it went into agonizing spasms. I had physiotherapy, but for the first few weeks I could hardly move. Fortunately I was well enough to get married seven weeks later but I never went back to nursing because of the injury to my neck.

When I got pregnant a year after Clive and I married, my lower back became very painful. I was told this was because of my neck injury and had physiotherapy again. I had three more children and my back problems got worse with each pregnancy. Acupuncture helped for a while, and I tried yoga but it wasn’t right for me and I was in agony.

Three years ago Clive and I started our own marketing business. Now I have to sit at a desk all day and my back was hurting all the time. My homeopath, who I see for other reasons, recommended I see a therapist, Paul Masureik, who practices a brand-new technique that originated in South Africa called Body Stress Release. At my first appointment I lay on my front, fully clothed on a mattress. Paul ran his hands over my vertebrae and gently stimulated the muscles by stroking and pressing them. It was the gentlest, most pain-free treatment I’d ever had but I felt much better after the first session. My neck felt freer and I had more energy.

Each session lasts about 40 minutes and, at first, I went every few days, but now I go about once a month. I’m fine now but I still go because the treatment is so relaxing! I was always wary of my back before and couldn’t do any vigorous exercise. Now I can go to aerobics without worrying, so I’m much fitter.