Back pain: why we should all be taking more care to stand tall
According to the charity Back Care, back pain is the second most common cause of absence from work in Britain. Every year more than four million working days are lost as a result of back pain and, on average, an employee with back pain takes 17 days off to recover from an episode.
Chances are you won’t know there’s a problem until it manifests in pain, at which point you may head to a GP, or perhaps a physiotherapist or a chiropractor. Bristol chiropractor Charles Herbert, who’s based in Clifton with business partner Matt Poulter, is aiming to turn this scenario on its head.
On the basis that prevention is better than cure, he and Matt want to start visiting Bristol offices to talk to workers about posture and the best way to set up a desk environment and to give general advice about good spine maintenance.
“It’s an ambition we have to get Bristol healthy,” says Charles. “We are the Green Capital of Europe and a ‘healthy’ city, so why not be the healthiest individuals as well?
“Going into offices is something we’re going to roll out, but we have big plans. It’s something new we haven’t done before in this way – and it’s a case of putting it into a package that companies can offer their employees to see what can be done to make people have fewer days off work.
“I’d say the majority of our patients sit in an office. The most common postural problem for office workers is the head lolling forward. Heads are about the same weight as a bowling ball, so they’re very heavy. The further you hold the ball away from your body the more difficult it is to hold. When you’re holding it away from the body you are using big muscles like the biceps and shoulders, but when you’re talking about the head, there are tiny little muscles in the neck involved in holding it up.
“Research tells us that the average weight of a head is 8-12lbs and for every inch you move you head forward, you increase the weight of your head again, so just one inch forward and you’re doubling the weight.
“So if you see people typing, writing, reading with their head tipped forward, all those little neck muscles are working harder than they are designed to and that leads to massive problems.
“It can cause headaches and tightness across the shoulders, then people start to round the shoulders forward and start to get a humped posture and may then get pain or pins and needles down their arm, or tingling or numbness.
“The other big one is the lower back; again, people slouch forward and don’t sit correctly, crossing their legs, so tilting the pelvis, which all puts pressure on the spine.
“We also meet people who suffer what they call ‘normal’ headaches. They go to work and by the end of the day they’ve got a headache. That’s not normal. Your body is telling you something is not right.
“Humans are not designed to sit for long periods, but they come in to the office and sit down and before they know it they’ve been sitting there for four or five hours. The worst thing I hear is people taking lunch at their desk – get up and move around, get out of the building and get some fresh air.”
Charles and Matt also practice what they preach and each member of their team at The Chiropractic Centre has a weekly chiropractic session and a sports massage at regular intervals. In addition, for a couple of hours each Wednesday, the practice is shut and everyone heads up to the Downs for some exercise.
Charles explains: “Matt and I pay for a personal trainer for the team so we all go up to the Downs and get really muddy working out and resetting our bodies. We start at 8am on a Wednesday and finish at 8pm, so it’s a long day, but taking two hours out in the middle to go off and move is great. We come back recharged and we’re all buzzing.”
If you haven’t already worked it out, chiropractors are concerned with the spine. Charles explains: “The spine is made up of 24 bones that are designed to move freely. When they stiffen up they can move out of position and irritate a nerve and surrounding tissues. That dysfunction causes pain.
“What we do is get the movement back into the joint, which takes the pressure off the nerves and surrounding tissues and relaxes the whole area, but because it has affected the nervous system you start to get things like sciatica or pins and needles and headaches – the majority of headaches are coming from the neck.
“The whole body thrives through the nervous system so if that’s being impeded because your spine is not functioning properly, it’s going to causes problems.
“People think we see mainly sports people, or that back injuries are caused by car accidents or other trauma, but often it’s stress, or picking up children; it’s the everyday things that, one on top of another, can build, and all of a sudden you’ve got a problem.
“It creeps up slowly and gets to a point where the body can’t take it any more, so the symptoms come way after the problem has started.
“As chiropractors, our philosophy is to get people out of pain and feeling good. We want to look after you and make sure that you stay at your optimum.
“Having a body that’s functioning properly makes you feel great and people want to maintain that feeling. So we’re very much about prevention and making people the best they can be. The sooner you tackle an issue the sooner we can get them to a good place.”
If you’d like Charlie and Matt to visit your office, where they can offer an informative talk and one-to-one “taster” sessions, or tailor a package to suit your needs, call 0117 9741 501, or send an email through the website www.thechirocentre.co.uk.
By Kate Edser – 13/03/15