5 Tips to Help Your Back Pain

Patrick Mulligan |

Tip #1 Breathe

The way we breathe has the potential to be a complete game changer for anyone dealing with back pain. Most people tend to think they’re breathing well just because they are alive, unfortunately this is not always the case. Sometimes our bodies tend to develop unhelpful breathing patterns which can impact how we move and contribute to pain in your back. When we are in pain we tend to breathe through our upper chests all of the time, meaning that our diaphragm, pelvic floor and ribcage don’t move very well. Each of these areas can have a huge impact on your back pain. When we take short, shallow breaths through our upper chests, the muscles around our ribcage have to work quite hard which leads to that feeling of tension and tiredness in the muscles in your back. Many people dealing with back pain have nearly forgotten how to take an effective deep breath and they may feel short of breath with the simplest of tasks. Try to slow down and relax your breathing, in through your nose and slowly out through your mouth. The longer you can exhale, the more your diaphragm is able to lengthen. Your diaphragm is a very important part of your “core muscles” and we need it to be able to go through a full range of motion. When we breathe through our upper chest and neck(usually when we are stressed), our diaphragm will get stuck in a shortened position. Focussing on slowing down your breathing also helps to change your physiology in order to get out of fight/flight mode where our body is quite tense, our heartrate is increased and our breathing rate is increased. Alot of us spend too much time in this stressed state due to the demands of our modern lives. Being able to relax and return to our “rest and digest” mode allows our muscles to relax and let go of the tension that they’re constantly holding onto. Many people with back pain tend to hold their breath while moving- this also leads to more tension in the muscles around the ribcage and can increase your back pain. Restoring your ability to breathe well is a key part of our treatment of back pain here at Compass Physio, we will teach you how you can incorporate relaxing breathing strategies into your daily activities to help you to move well with less pain.

Tip #2 Relax


Being able to relax is key to helping your back pain. Do you find that your back pain is usually at its worst when you’ve been sat down on the couch for a while or when you first get up in the morning? Or when you’re trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in at night and no matter what way you twist and turn and change your pillows you just can’t seem to find a position that isn’t painful? When we sit or lie down our muscles need to be able to relax in order for us to be comfortable. Alot of people with back pain tend to sit bolt upright which actually forces your lower back muscles to work quite hard even though you are in a resting position. You can test this right now by placing your hands on your lower back and sitting up tall with your chest up, you’ll feel those lower back muscles harden and get quite tense. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to just sigh out and slouch a little through your back, you should feel these muscles soften and relax. Now imagine sitting for half an hour in that bolt upright position, it’s quite a workout for your lower back muscles, is it any wonder that your back gets sore? Here at Compass Physio we focus on teaching your body how to relax, in particular the muscles along your spine. In the past, alot of treatments focussed on building strength and stability around the core muscles but this can sometimes drive that stiffness and lack of flexibility. We aim to restore your body’s ability to be strong and stable through your full range of motion so that you have endless movement options. When we limit the variety of movement in our bodies, our bodies tend to go into “protective mode” where the muscles tense up, forcing those already overworking muscles in our back to work even harder.

Tip #3 Improving Your Leg Strength


Ensuring we have good strength throughout our legs means that we can distribute load evenly through our bodies. A common presentation in our clinic would be someone who has had a previous ankle, knee or hip injury and now their back has started getting painful. This can happen when the body tries to protect the lower limb injury and in doing so, makes the muscles in the back work harder to compensate. Do you get a sore back after going out for a run or long walk or even when you’re just standing preparing dinner or doing the washing up? Our back muscles shouldn’t have to work hard during these activities but if your leg muscles aren’t doing enough work your lower back muscles are going to try to play the hero and take up the slack. How you’re breathing during these activities has an effect aswell, as we outlined above. A big part of our assessment and treatment process at Compass Physio is piecing each part of your injury history together to ensure that we are solving the source of your problem and not just treating the symptoms. We will target the leg muscles to ensure that they are playing their part to avoid your back muscles working too hard.

Tip #4 Increase Your Upper Body Strength


Similar to an issue with our leg muscles not helping us out as much as they should, an inability to use our upper limbs to their full potential can lead to the back muscles working way too hard. This is particularly common with mid-upper back pain and neck pain. Have you ever hurt your back after lifting something or reaching up or down to grab something from the top or bottom shelf at home or at work? We need to be functioning well through the muscles from our fingers all the way up to our shoulders so that we are not asking too much of our back muscles. This is why an old shoulder, elbow or wrist injury can lead to stiffness and pain in your back. One example of needing good strength through our arms is when you see weightlifters using straps around their wrists when they are deadlifting in the gym even though this is commonly seen as a lower body/back exercise. Using the straps means they are not limited by their grip strength when they go to lift the weight off the floor. We can apply this to our day to day tasks like lifting your shopping bags or a small child off the floor, using a really strong grip and keeping a little bend at your elbows will allow you to utilise the muscles in your arms to their full capacity and ultimately take the pressure off your back or neck. Here at Compass Physio, we will tailor your recovery plan to get every part of your body functioning well so that you can lift and reach with ease in your daily life.

Tip #5 Living a Healthy, Active Lifestyle

Numerous studies have shown that staying active significantly reduces your risk of back pain. You don’t need to be crushing weights in the gym or running marathons to avail of the benefits of living an active lifestyle. The World Health Organisation recommends that adults do 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week- this equates to about 30-40 mins of exercise 5 days/week. It’s very important for you to find an activity that you enjoy doing so that you don’t have to rely on every ounce of motivation and self discipline to get yourself up and moving, some people enjoy dancing, others enjoy walking or running or doing resistance exercises. By getting active, we increase the blood flow around our bodies, which means we’re pumping more nutrients into our soft tissues and draining toxins. Regular physical activity also strengthens our muscles and even our bones. Increasing your bone density can massively decrease your risk of conditions such as osteoporosis. One study found that walking was just as effective as specific strength exercises or exercise classes in improving disability, function and quality of life in people with persistent low back pain.
Eating a healthy balanced diet that gives you enough energy to fuel your brain and body throughout the day is also key in helping your low back pain. It also reduces your risk of being overweight which would have an impact on the amount of load that your spine has to manage during every movement you do.
Drinking more water is another simple way of helping your back pain as this will help to hydrate the tissues in your body which can help them to remain supple and function more effectively for you.
At Compass Physio, we pride ourselves in helping you to make sustainable changes to help you live a healthier, active lifestyle with a strong, healthy back.

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

If you are finding it hard to complete regular exercises due to pain, fatigue or simply time schedules speak to us at Compass Physio.

Exercise is for everybody. At Compass physio we will complete a full physical assessment and will help identify any possible underlying causes that may limit your exercise regime.

Our chartered physiotherapists will help you to build strength and strategies which will help tackle any problem.

At Compass physio we will help you succeed and reach your goals.

To find out how Compass Physio can help, call 046 954 9456 (this number covers all clinics), click here to book online.

You can also email any questions to info@compassphysio.ie

Paddy Mulligan – MISCP Chartered Physiotherapist Compass Physio

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