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How to get rid of back pain

Ditching unhealthy lifestyle habits could be all you need to relieve that niggling back pain.

If you’re struck by sharp jolts of agony or often feel a dull, heavy ache across your lower back, you’re just one of the estimated 80% of Kiwis who suffer some form of back pain during their lifetime.
The trouble is, “non-specific back pain”, as it’s often described, is difficult to diagnose, can linger long-term, and sufferers often give up seeking treatment and just accept the discomfort as part of their everyday life.
With research now showing that painkillers are often ineffective, persistent back problems can be an agonising reality for many, plus a leading cause of depression and anxiety.
But in many cases, lifestyle tweaks could be all your back needs to return to normal. Stop suffering in silence and discover which healthy changes could banish that dodgy back for good…

Quit smoking

Smokers are three times more likely to experience chronic back pain than non-smokers – and if that’s not a good reason to quit, we don’t know what is! Research shows that smoking changes the way the brain responds and deals with pain, making smokers less resilient to the misery of backache.
“Nicotine also restricts blood flow to the discs that cushion your vertebrae and can increase the rate of degeneration,” explains exercise physiologist Dr Jarrod Meerkin.
Do it today
There are countless books, podcasts and apps out there to help you quit for good, but we love Quit Smoking with Andrew Johnson, $4.49, from the App Store. Using simple hypnosis techniques to help break your habit, it’s one of the most relaxing ways to quit.

Lose some weight

An elevated body mass index (BMI) puts you at four times greater risk of back pain, as well as other health complications, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
“Being overweight increases the load through your lower spine discs,” says chiropractor Dr Greg Sher. “Carrying extra weight – especially around your mid-section – shifts your entire centre of gravity forward and puts additional strain on your back muscles,” adds Dr Meerkin. Ouch!
Do it today
Stretch more! The free Six Minute Back Pain Relief app is a great place to start as it’s packed with simple and effective stretches. Book an appointment with your GP too – you’ll need to up your exercise regimen to lose weight, but speak to an expert first to see what precautions they would recommend to protect your spine and joints.

Work on your posture

Are you hunching over as you read this? Then listen up – and straighten up while you’re at it! While poor posture won’t lead to a bad back right away, prolonged hunching and bending over can place strain on your spine, causing pain as your blood vessels and nerves become restricted.
“Poor posture causes the muscles and discs in our spines to stretch and stretch, until one day, it almost feels like the elastic snaps,” explains Dr Sher.
Do it today
Start moving! “Change postures often and never do the same thing repetitively,” tells Dr Sher. “Sitting loads the discs in your back significantly more than standing, so get up at least twice every hour and move about, doing some gentle stretches.”

Take up yoga

The last thing you feel like doing when you’re battling a bad back is exercise, but staying active is vital. Many experts agree that yoga is most effective at treating back pain – by stretching your muscles, you’ll not only soothe the pain, but you can also reduce any arthritic symptoms, and help ease the depression and anxiety that’s so often a side effect.
Do it today
Download the yin yoga app, $9.99. Suitable for beginners and seasoned yogis, yin yoga is a slow-paced style that’s great for improving flexibility, strengthening your core and back muscles, and boosting your mental wellbeing.

Stop worrying

Believe it or not, worrying about your bad back can make it worse.
“Back pain caused by anxiety is very common and one of the main reasons people end up seeking help for their anxiety,” explains Dr Meerkin.
“The pain is mostly secondary, meaning anxiety doesn’t literally cause your back pain, but it can increase muscle tension, which in turn increases pain.”
Check out the new “pain management pack” on the free Headspace meditation app. Research has found that mindfulness exercises, such as meditation, can reduce pain intensity in over 62% of cases. And not only will a little meditation help soothe your aching back, but it’s proven to boost your mental health too!

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