5 Ways To Deal With Back Pain

Eight out of 10 people suffer from recurrent back pain, with women more prone to it (damn you, heels!). Musculoskeletal physiotherapist Calvin Sim shows you how to lead a pain-free life. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1344 on Jul 17, 2016.)

Here’s a factoid for you: The body was never designed to sit. Yes, it’s true, according to physiotherapist Calvin Sim.  “One reason rickshaw pullers in the past liked to squat to take a break is ’cos it actually helps to stretch their backs. The strain that goes through the spine when you squat is less than when you sit. The stress on the spine when you sit down is 200 per cent of your body weight. [Some people say] the best way to [offload the stress on the spine] is to sit at a 120-degree incline. But how can you do any work like that?  [Newer studies showed] that it’s okay to sit at a 95 to 100-degree incline instead. That’s how all these ergonomic office chairs came about. But the key thing in offloading [the pressure on] your spine is to sit all the way back in the chair and use the back rest.”

#1: Don’t sit up straight.

“Growing up, our parents always told us to sit up straight and not to slouch. The question is: What’s straight?” Calvin says. Surprise, surprise: You shouldn’t sit up ramrod straight (it strains your lower back), but it doesn’t mean you can be a total slouch either. Instead, aim for what experts call the neutral position. “It’s not a point, but a zone between the furthest point of upright and the total slouch position, with the pelvis as a point of control,” he explains.

#2: Don’t do yoga.

Don’t get us wrong: Yoga’s great. But to alleviate back pain, you need to be more aware of your body. “Pilates is better in this case, as it focuses on form and posture, whereas yoga is more about breathing techniques,”he says.

#3: You’ve got to move it, move it! 

Whether you’re busy rushing to meet deadlines or YouTubing at work, don’t forget to get up from your seat and move every 45 minutes to an hour. “If that’s not possible, you should at least be aware [of your posture] and reset your [posture to the neutral position],” Calvin shares. Another way to get moving is to de-clutter your desk. “Whatever you use regularly, like every five minutes, should be placed within the radius of your forearm. Things that you use three to four times an hour should be kept at arm’s length. You should clear everything else from your table, so that you’ll be forced to get up to get it [every hour]. One more drawback of a messy workstation? “You’re more inclined to [hunch and slouch over] as there’s less space to work with,” Calvin proffers.

#4: Get a back support, but know when to let it go, let it go.

So you’re way past the preventive stage and are battling with persistent back pain. “Back lumbar supports, like the Futuro Slim Silhouette Back Support, help in cases of acute lower back pain (LBP), when it’s so painful you can’t really function. This lumbar corset mimics our core muscles, which are inhibited by pain. When you have pain, that muscle switches off. The back brace is designed to support the spine and prevent the pain from worsening. But it’s not a prevention method. Instead, it’s an adjunct to treatment — it’s for patients who can’t come into the clinic immediately. If the pain persists for two days, I tell them to put on the lumbar corset. If it still doesn't ease in three to four days, they should seek medical advice.”

#5: Stretch your back, even in public.

These back stretches are especially useful if you’ve been walking or shopping for a long time and your back feels tight or sore.

Pelvic tilts! Tuck the tailbone in between the legs and curl your body slightly.

Knee hug! Sit down, bend forward, nose to knees, and use hands to hug the back of knees.

The ankle touch! Stand up straight and bend down to touch your finger tips to your ankles. Embarassed? Bend over and pretend you’re tying your laces.

The Futuro Slim Silhouette Back Support is available at selected Watsons stores.


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