From stiff shoulders to lower-spine spasms, back pain can be a nightmare, says Alice du Parcp. These six posture-perfecting tips will see you straight

Description: back pain can be a nightmare

Back pain can be a nightmare

Sit up straight. Really straight, shoulders down, as if there’s a puppet string hooked to the top of your head. Feels good, right? Imagine if you sat and walked like that all the time without even thinking about it. You could potentially avoid being one of the 9.6 million people in the UK who suffer from back pain every week – a staggering statistic revealed in a recent EU survey. By integrating a few simple adjustment into your lifestyle, you can strengthen and preserve the most important structure in your body – your spine – fending off future twinges and chronic aches. Are you ready to reshape your attitude? We can show you how.

1.    The $19.5 investment you need to make today

Osteopath and acupuncturist Garry Trainer says, “If there’s one piece of kit I’d made everyone have, it’s a wobble board.” The humble little spaceship-shaped exercise equipment does a surprisingly big job. When we step onto it and try to correct your instability, nerve impulses are fired off to control your muscles (the process is called proprioception). The more you practice this nerve communication, the better your muscles respond – leading to improved coordination and back strength. “Use it for a couple of minutes every day – maybe when you’re brushing your teeth or during ad breaks on TV. Having had a serious back injury in the past, I use mine all the time to prevent future damage.” With fans including super-toned Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as forever-young Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, that’s the most realistic A-list fitness advice we’ve ever heard. PhysioRoom Adjustable Balance Wobble Board, from $20, from Physioroom.com.

The $19.5 investment you need to make today

The $19.5 investment you need to make today

2.    Open your mind to supplements

Just as you’d take a vitamin to support your immune system, certain supplements have been proven to aid joint lubrication and prevent muscle strain. In fact, at the time of writing, new legislation was passed requiring all herbal medicines to feature a registered ‘THR’ stamp under the Traditional Herbal Registration scheme to confirm their efficacy. One supplements company that has already had 18 herbal medicines licensed is Schwabe Pharma UK.  “My recommendation for back support is devil’s claw extract,” says Schwabe’s technical director Dr Dick Middleton. “It’s a perennial shrub that grows wild in the deserts of Namibia and the name refers to its hooked, claw-like seed pods. It’s used for its anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxant and analgesic properties in patients with chronic back pain and osteoarthritis, and it’s a good supplement to take to control muscular inflammation.” Find your daily devil’s claw dose in FlexiHerb tables ($15.3 for 40) at Boots nationwide.

Description: One supplements company that has already had 18 herbal medicines licensed is Schwabe Pharma UK

One supplements company that has already had 18 herbal medicines licensed is Schwabe Pharma UK

3.    Needless work

There’re plenty beyond a hot stone massage to ease your back. Did you know acupuncture has recently been made available for free on the NHS? Kate Winstanley, a member of the British Acupuncture Council and a practitioner at London’s Food Doctor Clinic, explains how a few tiny pins can make a big difference. “According to MRI scans, gentle stimulation of specific acupuncture points triggers the body’s own natural healing response by releasing necessary hormones and natural healing response by releasing necessary hormones and natural painkillers. When we’re stressed, our body releases the fight-or-flight protein neuropeptide Y into our blood; acupuncture can significantly reduce levels of this protein and calm the central nervous system. The needles activate specific energy points to strengthen the regulatory systems. As a result, patient have more energy, their muscle function improves and they’re less likely to succumb to future back problems.” Speak to your GP about a referral. Or find a private practitioner in your area via acupuncture.org.uk and expect to pay from $52.5-$90 for an initial consultation, though it will be more at an exclusive city clinic.

4.    Practise safe flex

Description: yoga and Pilates are fantastic for core strength

Yoga and Pilates are fantastic for core strength

We know yoga and Pilates are fantastic for core strength, but joining even a beginner’s class can do more harm than good. “I’ve seen people who have done their backs serious harm trying a new class,” says Fiona Troup, a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor at the SixPhysio clinic in London’s Harley Street. “If you’re keen on starting, book a one-to-one session first to test your flexibility.” It’s with this in mind that Pilates guru Lynne Robinson has launched the Back4Good initiative, providing low-cost Pilates classes nationwide specifically for those with lower-back pain. “We worked closely with medical experts to create a set of exercises designed to target many of the complex underlying causes of back pain.” There are two classes on offer: the Healthy Back class (a gentle workout to support the back, improve movement and strengthen the spine); and the Back4Good session (for those already suffering from chronic pain, taught as a one-to-one class or in a small group). Both are now widely available in the UK, with prices for one-hour classes starting at just $15.

5.    Step in the right direction

Description: focus on improving the shoes you wear when doing a workout or walking long distance

Focus on improving the shoes you wear when doing a workout or walking long distance

Woe betide the magazine that dares to suggest an ‘ideal heel height’ to a modern woman. Could there be anything more unrealistic (and boring)? Instead, focus on improving the shoes you wear when doing a workout or walking long distance, as those repetitive moments can create cumulative strain – especially in the lumbar region connected to your pelvis. “Running shoes and sports bars are the only things I choose carefully,” says Olympian Sally Gunnell, 45, who still runs three times a week. “Most good sports shops can fit shoes property for support and cushioning. Feet may curve inwards or outwards, so you want the impact through your shoe to be aligned with your legs and spine. And if ever your posture feels uncomfortable, switch to running or walking on grass instead of concrete and stay on flat surfaces. A good sports bra can stop that heavy bounce that throws the back into an unnatural jerk. When I was pregnant and breastfeeding, I used to wear two bras at the same time!”

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