I’ve wanted to do a feature on back pain for a while now. I’m in no way qualified to write about it from a medical perspective, however, I am qualified as I’m still in pain now, as I’m sure are many mums who have had back trouble.
Last year around August time I had a miscarriage, which started with back pain. A few weeks later my back went – I was unable to walk, to do anything – and was eventually taken to hospital.
I suspect the two issues are linked in some way which I’m not entirely sure how, but late January 2012 I attended an event held by Publicasity and the British Chiropractic Association, which went into issues a lot of mums (and dads) have relating to back pain.
I want to try to cover some of what I learned, and include some useful links so if you find yourself in that position, it might be of some help. All guidance came from Tim Hutchful and Louise Hampton from the BCA.
My first chat was with Tim – he told us how we often don’t pick things up from the floor correctly, putting extra strain on our back – and what we actually should be doing is raising a leg to give us balance. Try dropping a pen on the floor and bending down to get it – it’s not great – but if you try again raising a leg, you’ll find you have better balance.
Everything comes down to posture; to quote Tim “The ideal posture would allow for a plumb line to hang straight through your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. Try and stand in a relaxed way but gently contracting your abdominal muscles. When sitting, the same is true. The gravity line should pass thorough ear, shoulder and hip.” Did you know that when you’re sitting down, you’re actually using 150% strain on your back? (that is from memory, I need to double-check so am apologising now if it’s wrong!) As for slouching in front of the tv (guilty as charged, with my history, not good), that’s bad. A settee is not a good chair to be sitting in – it’s really bad for your posture. The ideal sitting position is to make sure your body has as much contact as possible with the chair, so it’s kept supported.
We talked about bags. Most mums have their lovely fancy changing bags, and actually they can often be bad for your back – ideally something like a rucksack which spreads the weight across your back is better – the same goes for laptops, and anything you’d carry in this way.
The one that surprised me was the potential for back trouble if you have a badly fitting bra. Most women don’t get correctly fitted and measured (from experience, the one time I did she didn’t measure me, she just kept bringing me bras she thought would fit) – there’s some tell-tale signs you’re wearing the wrong size – the underband rides up (lift your arms – and check if the underwire is still against the body), the shoulder straps dig in (the straps provide 20 percent of support – if the straps dig in then the underband may be too loose), the centre fold is lifting away from the body (possibly too small cup), or the back band is over stretched.
We were shown more practical situations we could all improve on – one was baby carriers – slings aren’t great for your posture (gulp) – try going for the ones which strap baby across you and criss-cross across the back, rather than go over one shoulder. When picking up your baby/toddler, hold them as close as possible to you and your hip, changing sides as often as possible.
How about playing? I had no idea what was going on with my knees, there were weird bits on them, but apparently loads of people get them – fluid on the knee, due to kneeling down playing with your little one. To help combat this and improve the line of posture, try kneeling on a cushion. I suggested sitting cross-legged, and was advised to sit on a cushion while doing this, as it’s an okay posture, as you’re evenly balanced.
When you’re sitting in front of a computer all day, I found that setting a reminder on my computer to check my posture every 15 minutes, and after three (ie 45 minutes) standing up, also helped a lot. I can get quite engrossed in my work… “Your seat should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the ground, your knees bent, but with a slope from your hips to your knees. You should end up with your hips higher than your knees and your eyes level with the top of the computer screen. You may need to put the screen on a stand or even on a ream of paper to bring it to the right height.”
If you’re using a laptop, it’s worth investing in a separate keyboard and mouse to use when at home to use in a more back friendly manner.
As a knitter, I was told it’s good to sit in a chair which moves – like a rocking chair, as your posture wont be great while doing this, but with you moving around a lot, you’re getting support for the rest of your body – and take lots of breaks! My rocking chair is my feeding chair – and also with feeding make sure you’re giving yourself good support – your arms shouldn’t hold the baby’s weight. Try investing in a ‘V Pillow’ too, for additional support.
Exercise-wise, we were recommended one we’ve done in Pilates classes – the Star Exercise – I’ve linked to an article on eHow which explains it a little better, you essentially keep your back straight (core muscles at work – imagine you’ve a tea-tray on there which you don’t want to spill) and raise alternate arms and legs – our Pilates instructor liked to call it the Superman one (that seems to be another much more difficult one though) – but this works your abs to keep your pelvis stable.
It goes without saying, the one exercise they drum into you at ante-natal classes, the pelvic floor is extremely important. As someone who had a c-section, I’ve heard so many other mums who had one saying “oh I’m okay, I had a c-section, I don’t need to do them” and then have problems – everyone should do them, even dads. I’ve found I’m more likely to do my pelvic floor if I think of something to associate it with – singing nursery rhymes! It helps though, especially with the breathing, as if I’m not doing something I think about it too much.
One suggestion we had as far as overall balance goes was to stand on one foot when we clean our teeth, to help posture again. If we get pretty well-balanced, try doing it with our eyes closed – again, it’s helping the core muscles work and improving overall balance.
I have to say, I found the event really helpful – I got answers to things that other people hadn’t been able to give me. Six months after it all happened to me, I still have minor backache; it’s something I wish I’d done things to help strengthen and improve – everything we were taught was common sense. I met some other bloggers at the event, who all have their own accounts of the day – they’re all worth reading as we all had different issues, so where I’ve waffled, they may have said it in a far more coherent way!
The Healthy Back Blog – this blog is essential and comes from Louise Hampton, a mum and chiropractor
Tim Hutchful’s blog – full of more useful advice
I Heart Motherhood
Me The Man and the Baby
Thank you to Tim and Louise at BCP and Aaron at Publicasity!