Back pain: here’s how to maintain a healthy back for a happy life
Get moving! Exercise is the best therapy and prevention for back pain
Anatomically, we are not all that different from our ancestor Homo erectus, the first to walk upright and the perfect endurance runner, but back pain is much more common in our modern, sedentary society. The human body, from skeleton to muscles, is designed to move when upright. But instead, we sit still. It’s not physically strenuous, so why do we still feel the strain?
Back pain: a modern affliction
‘All too often, we carry heavy physical and mental loads that put pressure on the spine, intervertebral discs, cartilage and joints,’ says Dr Peter Gartner, medical director at the Park Igls Mayr clinic in Tyrol. This can have numerous, painful consequences. Park Igls physiotherapists Lisa French and Mina Siehs advise: ‘Sitting for long periods of time is not recommended. Remember to change your sitting position often. The spine needs constant movement – strain and relief – to stay healthy.’ The importance of movement is becoming increasingly clear in both therapeutic intervention and prevention of back pain. ‘Too little physical activity can significantly affect muscle tension imbalances and therefore cause pain,’ Lisa French explains.
Causes of and treatment of slipped discs
Back pain is now society’s number one common ailment, and, in fact, MRI scans have already detected slipped discs in a third of young Austrian adults. ‘The intervertebral discs need continuous strain and release to ensure long-term functionality. Uneven strain over long periods can affect disc structure, making them more prone to injury. It is important to regularly activate the girdle of muscles that supports our spine, allowing pressure to be evenly distributed and giving all tissue a healthy share of the strain. Uneven strain and lack of muscle movement can overload the discs in the long run. And when we’re in pain, we respond by adopting an unhelpful protective posture… it’s a vicious circle!’ Mina Siehs highlights.
Holistic diagnosis with a psycho-social dimension
‘Broadly speaking, we differentiate between two types of back pain in diagnosis: specific and non-specific,’ Dr Gartner explains. ‘The first has a specific anatomic, traumatic or pathological cause like an abnormality, accident or inflammatory disease, for example a kidney inflammation or ankylosing spondylitis, while non-specific back pain cannot be ascribed to a concrete cause. So each patient and their particular situation must be examined as a whole,’ he stresses. Every chronic pain diagnosis, therapy and prevention plan should therefore incorporate a psycho-social approach.
Individual, holistic treatment at Park Igls
Treating back trouble with sprays and infusion therapy isn’t necessarily the answer. ‘Infusion therapy and sprays can and do provide relief, but they cannot treat the causes,’ Dr Gartner warns. ‘In most cases, non-specific pain returns.’ The winning combination is pain therapy with physiotherapy, psychotherapy and lifestyle changes. Exercise therapy is also effective, and, according to physiotherapist Mina Siehs: ‘the type of exercise is best decided between doctor and patient on a case-by-case basis.’ There are lots of great options.
Fascia training, movement training and strength training
Fascia training is becoming more and more popular. ‘Fascia therapies like massage, rollers or stretches have an immediate effect on the nervous system which causes the tissues to relax. However, the effect doesn’t usually last long.’ Other active strategies include movement training and strength training which increase resilience (due to physiological changes in the tissue) and encourage the patient to carry on independently. This can also alleviate symptoms in the long term. Spiraldynamik® is a therapeutic approach based on movements that stabilise the back and the entire locomotor system, whereas the Feldenkrais® Method helps patients relearn patterns of movement. Yoga exercises increase the range of motion, while the revolutionary kybun® training stabilises the core and back muscles – and it’s gentle on joints. Finally, running and walking – virtually the most natural forms of movement – are also effective. The most important thing is for exercise to be fun, otherwise we’re unlikely to keep going at it. And the back pain will never go away.