Top tips for dealing with back aches from the BackHug team!
Working for a back health startup comes with many perks, one of which is being able to “ask the expert” (AKA our physiotherapist founder Chongsu) anytime you need it.
I could try to make you believe that I am immune to shoulder tightness or lower back discomfort and that I never went for a pain-relieving massage. But being part of the BackHug team unfortunately does not come with an antidote to the proverbial “pain in the backside!”
Joking aside, I kind of assumed my colleagues all had perfect backs when I saw them sitting up so nice and straight at their desks.
Little did I know that each of them has their own particular “back story” and today you are going to hear from them (and me at the end) – how they overcome their aches and pains in day to day life and what we think are the best solutions to treat and prevent back pain and discomfort.
Chongsu (chief executive)
As a physio and BackHug inventor, I am supposed to remain silent about my ongoing niggly back discomfort, haha. Here we are and I am finally hung out to dry! I have had this upper back discomfort since my mid-teens. It’s just becoming increasingly uncomfortable in my upper back as I pick up more years, especially after spending a few hours sitting straight at a computer desk. The best remedies for that have been going swimming or running for an hour – less than an half an hour seemed not enough – at least once a week. When the discomfort is worse than usual, I would do the exercises a couple of times a week. It feels great, my lungs breathe deep, I feel lighter, and my back feels so good. If that’s not possible due to lack of time, then a few back stretches are a good alternative, but they are never as good as running or swimming.
I sometimes ask my wife Soo to gently push my back from behind so that my hands can reach further to the toes. Once I reach the full stretch in the back, I hold if for a minute, feeling the stretch. It has to be gradual and gentle though. Regardless of how much exercise or stretches I do, I am of course very aware that breaking my sitting cycle at the desk is the most important thing to maintain what I currently have and, more importantly, prevent long-standing back problems. Heaven helps those who help themselves, and back care is no exception.
I have been a competitive hockey player for many years now, which has involved an extensive exercise routine. Between the nature of hockey, where your body spends a large amount of time bent over, and the weights sessions to maintain strength, there can be great pressure on my back. To keep by back happy, I make sure I stretch well before and after all exercise, ensuring I hold and maintain the stretches for around 30 seconds each for maximum benefits. A personal favourite of mine for cooling down after a workout is the spine lumbar twist. It targets both my back and glutes, which is where I usually feel the most strain after a workout!
I have recently invested in a smart watch, where I receive a notification if I have been sitting down for too long. This has really helped when my job requires me behind a computer as it allows me to stay mobile. I’ll usually combine this with a walk round the block (with a coffee too) to ensure that I’m getting fresh air. If you don’t have access to a smart watch, a reminder on your phone is another great way to keep you moving and ensure your back gets the activity it needs 🙂
I feel as though I was already sitting in a bad position in the womb. Whether that feeling has any foundation, having just turned 50 and spent most of my life either working a desk job or studying, the outcome is the same.
Up until a few years ago, I would go to the boxing gym twice or three times a week for a long, gruelling workout that could involve running over a hill with someone else on my back, or tensing my abs while getting punched hard in the stomach by my partner. But one day something changed. My right shoulder had a nagging pain from punching the bag and my knees started to hurt when I went running. I asked Chongsu for advice. He said shoulders and knees are both significantly affected by back tension. So I reduced my back tension and, thankfully, I am now boxing again (Covid safety permitting). Here are two tips I found useful:
Situps make you strain your lower back as you go up, which can obviously make it sore. Planks are a great substitute, because they work your abs – without straining your back. But planking is abominably boring. To keep myself from falling asleep, I put my elbows on a folded sweatshirt on the wooden floor: that makes my elbows slide and keeps me busy holding the pose. I also use the timer on my phone to concentrate on holding the plank for at least 1:30 to start, then go straight into some “plank exercises,” like lifting my legs up behind me or pushing my knees forward in alternation. Those help work different ab muscles and, crucially, make the plank less crushingly dull. Yes, you can strengthen those abs to take the punches without hurting your lower back!
I also set a 20-minute reminder App on my phone. Each time it goes off I stand up and do a quick stretch. Before, my legs would sometimes go numb with too much sitting down. Now, the regular stand-up-and-stretches stop the back tension from building up. And they help me remember there’s a life beyond my screen.
I periodically experience tensions and the aches in my upper back and shoulders. It comes from the long hours spent sitting and my previous exercise regime that was not supported by proper stretching.
There are a couple of things that I find helpful in releasing the tension:
- I have organised a little home gym and got myself an air bike. The air bike requires your whole body to move, as a result I can immediately feel less tension in my back. An additional benefit is a great improvement to your cardio. It is a win-win.
- Stress can contribute to your neck and shoulder tension. Doing something that brings you peace of mind will help. For me, this is scuba diving … The lack of distraction, phones, everyday noise combined with the alien-like landscape underwater can’t be beaten. The cold water helps too ❄
Anyone who says that they have not experienced back pain in their life is kidding themselves, because it’s likely that it has been the root of many other problems. It’s only over the last few years that I have learned more about this and why it’s so important to look after your back. As a young sport-driven individual, I haven’t paid much attention to stretching properly or why recovery is so important in the past. It’s only since starting work and spending a lot more time stationary that my chain has started to show signs of rust. All of those small niggles that you have forgotten about crawl out of the woodwork.
Being right-handed, my right side always works extra hard, whether that is pushing in a scrum when playing rugby, trying to break my back carrying the entire food shop or even pressing the foot pedals while driving. I now have a groaning voice inside my right knee that seems to stem from my glute – like a little highway of pain. I’ve found that it only occurs after being stationary for a long period of time or when the muscles surrounding the joints are very tight. This is where I have found an old tennis ball very useful (any hard ball will do!) Lying on your side, leaning on your elbows, place a tennis ball smack bang in the centre of your glute and leave it there for as long as you can…(I’ll not repeat the words used to describe how this feels). Doing this at least twice a day is good enough for me but everyone is different. Also, if you have access to a foam roller then placing this on your lower back and holding in the areas where you feel tight for 30s or so also does the trick.
For the past 2 years I’ve been really getting into my running and kickboxing – both of which aren’t the most friendly activities for my lower back!
However, I focus a lot of my weight training on strengthening both my core and lower back. This I feel has given me a great foundation – provided I don’t go and get too excited with heavier weights, no injuries so far (touch wood ?). I have the long term goal of keeping a handstand for 1-minute or longer, and the training for this has the added benefit of being a great back strengthening exercise! I also do a 10-minute Headspace walking meditation each morning. It’s a great way to wake up your body and keep you relaxed – just wrap up warm!
If I am sitting for more than 60-mins when working from home, I’ll get a notification on my smartwatch to get up and stretch. It’s an easy way to break up those long hours – even for 1-2 minutes.
My desk setup is also deliberately designed to help reduce bad posture. Even though I am renowned for leaning forward to read my infamous ‘Declan font’ size – I do maintain that 75% zoom is normal! – I have a laptop stand and an exercise ball which personally have been a godsend for back pain relief – I don’t have an affiliate link sadly but will happily make recommendations!
Thomas (design, App Ui/Ux)
I’m not kind to my back. Or, maybe, my back isn’t kind to me. Who’s to blame isn’t that important. I run a fair bit, 10km most days with a longer 25km run on a Sunday. As a result, I’ve suffered the usual pick-n-mix bag of pain expected from a runner. Treats include: Shin splints, runner’s knee, sprained ankle and torn glutes. When I started experiencing back pain, I brushed it off as something unrelated to the high impact exercise I was doing and assumed it resulted from lifting a box, or something equally every day. Running uses the legs, not the back, after all. But, after the continuing cramps and sharp pain my back seemed to burden me with (again, not pointing fingers here) I decided to cover all bases and google ‘Back pain from running’ and sure enough--a stream of results. One of the common causes of running-related back pain is a weak core (Something Google has accused me of a few times in the past.)
With this in mind, my tips for back pain – at least running associated back pain – are relatively simple and accessible. After my longer runs, I take an ice bath for 15-20 minutes, I find this helps with inflammation. I also do pilates or yoga 3 times a week. Many of the exercises involved work on that pesky core, and the deep stretches increase my flexibility and help with the pain. Hopefully, continuing these practices will improve my range of motion and allow my legs, core and back to finally get along. Who knew the body was so interconnected?
Maria (design, marketing)
I have suffered with sciatica pain, shooting down my left leg to the foot, since I was in my early 20s, so much so that I could not sit or run for over an hour.
Before the gym closed because of Coronavirus, I did mostly rely on swimming, the absence of gravity in water was a big help for my lower back.
Now that I am exercising and working from home (spoiler alert: sitting at the desk for a long period of time does not help) my absolute favourite go-to sciatica relief stretches, all of which I learned practising yoga, are: downward facing dog and child’s pose. If the soreness feels higher than usual, I would choose the garland pose or the pigeon pose and hold them for a minute or so. Ahhhh breath and feel that stretch!
We like to keep our back in shape here at house BackHug.
Another great perk of being a member of the BackHug family is being able to use the BackHug back therapy device regularly.
No need to get all jealous, once this lockdown is over (?) feel free to pop into our office to get your own BackHug treatment (it’s a self-service device, operated with an App, so you can use it while sticking to social distancing guidelines).
But if you can’t wait, you can also try BackHug for two weeks at home. Click here for more details.