Backache is one of the most common reasons people over 50 see their doctor. In most cases, the pain will ease after a few weeks, but if you repeatedly suffer with back issues, it's worth doing all you can to protect your back and prevent a problem.
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1. Don't sit for too long
Your posture (how you sit, stand, lie and lift) can make a big difference to the health of your back.
One of the worst things you can do is to stay in a fixed position for hours. Sitting for prolonged periods - whether at the computer, while driving, or watching TV - puts pressure on your discs and can cause your gluteal muscles to weaken.
Every 20 minutes or so, stand up, stretch your back, and move around - even if it's only to walk up the stairs and back. After two to three hours of sitting, make sure to take a slightly longer walking break.
2. Make time to stretch
Stretching can also help to stregthen your back. Before you do any physical work, such as cleaning, painting and decorating or gardening, it can help to warm up your back muscles first. To really feel the benefit and help protect your back, you need to do stretches for at least 30 minutes every day, preferably twice a day. Search for exercises online or follow the programme of stretches in Relief is in the Stretch: End Back Pain Through Yoga (from £11.27 via Amazon).
Strengthening your back through exercise is one of the best ways to avoid back problems re-occurring, and can also help to treat backache when it flares up.
Low-impact exercise that doesn't put a strain on your joints or back is best, such as swimming or walking. Avoid anything that can jolt your back, such as racquet sports. Yoga and Pilates are particularly good for improving your core strength and helping to keep your back strong and supple.
You don't have to go to classes – doing a yoga or pilates DVD can help. APPI Pilates for Lower Back Pain DVD (£17.99 via Amazon) gets good reviews. Having said that, many of the movements are precise and it's easy to get them wrong and end up exacerbating a problem. If you can, go along to a class now and then and have the instructor give you feedback on your technique.
4. Stretch and strengthen your hips
It's not just your back muscles you need to worry about. As well as ensuring a strong core (by doing abdominal exercises), it's important to keep your hip muscles strong and flexible.
Start the day by lying on your back in bed and pulling your knees up to your chest. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat two or three times. You can also gently move your knees from side to side an inch to help keep your hips from getting stiff.
5. Lift the right way
Even if you no longer lift things for work and don't do DIY around the house, it's important to follow the proper technique when it comes to lifting. Lifting too heavy a weight can strain your back and lifting badly can lead to injury. Even picking up your grandchild the wrong way can cause a twinge if you're not careful.
First, adopt a stable position with your feet apart and one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (being prepared to move your feet during the lift to maintain their stability). Bend at the knees and get a good hold, keeping your grandchild (or load) as close to your body as possible. Avoid bending your back while lifting – which can sometimes happen if your legs begin to straighten too early during the lift. Always lift with the legs, not the back. When lowering, face the place you have selected and lower your grandchild (or load) slowly, bending your knees. Again, never bend your back and let your legs do the work.
Back pain causes you stress – and stress makes back pain worse. It's a vicious circle. As well as tightening your muscles, which shortens them and makes it harder to support your back, chronic stress has been shown to increase your sensitivity to pain.
Whether it's listening to a meditation CD, such as Stress Relief Hypnosis CD (£10.97 via Amazon), doing deep breathing exercises, or going to a restorative yoga class, it's worth doing everything you can to relax.