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Caring for the crafters back!

In the second in this series of self-care blogs, I'm going to be focussing on back care!

Did you know that more than 80% of us will have back pain at some point in our lives? That means that it's actually more 'normal' to have an episode of back pain at some point than to never get back pain. Certainly, as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, it's the condition that dominates my case load!

Did you also know, however, that in the majority of cases, despite the severity of symptoms, an episode of back pain will settle on it's own within 4 weeks? Furthermore, the severity of your pain does not only NOT equate to the level of harm.... but you can also have pain in the complete absence of harm!

But aside from these facts, no-one wants back pain, nor the impact it has on our function, our ability to do what we enjoy, and our ability to enjoy our lives. Unfortunately, as crafters, we have picked a hobby that actually increases our risk of back pain. Why is this?

Well, a common misconception is that back pain is caused by and made worse by manual work and activity. In fact, the vast majority of back pain that we see in clinic is caused by prolonged and static postures, lack of general fitness, stress, poor diet and poor sleep.

Check our the first blog in this series, 'How to look after your hands' to see exactly how prolonged positions can be problematic for our tissues!

So what are my tips?

1. Take Breaks, little and often!

Unfortunately, research has shown that there is no amount of exercise that can undo the detrimental effects on the body of sitting for more than 1 hour at a time. The only thing that has been shown to help? - short but frequent activity breaks!

So for every 40minutes of stitching, take a break of 5minutes. While you would be fine to have shorter breaks more frequently than that, longer breaks more rarely would defeat the purpose!

Use your breaks for some whole-body activity, mixing and matching movement and stretch activities such as....

  • Walking up and down the stairs twice (taking the steps two at a time if you can!)

  • Standing and sitting from your chair as many times as you can in 1minute (without using your hands if you can!)

  • Side stretch - standing, slide one hand down the outside of your leg while reaching up and overhead with your other hand and arm.

  • Upper back stretch - hands on the back of your head, push your chest forward, elbows wide, and look up!

All stretches need to be held for a minimum of 20s to make a difference, and make sure you only push it to the point you feel a pull, not a pain!

2. Get Fit!

To get git you should work on your flexibility, aerobic fitness, muscular strength AND muscular endurance.

Doing some form of general strengthening exercise training for at least 30minutes, twice per week, has been shown to be the optimum amount for health and injury prevention. You don't need gym equipment for this and can even use household items!

If you aren't sure where to start with strengthening, speak to a health or fitness professional for an individualised program that suits you!

3. Don't focus on the 'perfect posture' - focus on varied postures!

While it was traditionally thought that the 'perfect' posture was what we should all aim for 100% of the time, research over the last 10-15years has in fact shown that NO posture is perfect for 100% of the time. In fact, however we sit, if we are there for prolonged periods we are likely to develop pain.

So, what posture should we sit in? The answer? Lots of different ones!

Change it up every 20-30minutes! Using hand-held hoops and frames can help with this as they allow mobility. If you use a standing or fixed hoop/frame stand, consider trying to change the height or angle of the stand regularly, and if that isn't possible, consider using a stool or chair with wheels, or even a gym ball to allow you to move your back regularly.

4. Look after your mental wellbeing!

It's a little-known fact that your mental wellbeing can influence not only your chance of developing pain, but also how severe your pain is, and how long it takes to improve! Take time to look after your mental wellbeing using mindfulness practices (apps such as Calm or Headspace can help), walks in nature, and spending time connecting with your friends and family.

5. If you're starting to feel a bit sore - don't panic!

Panicking is literally one of the worst things you can do. It's not only unhelpful, but it can actually cause more problems! If you're worried about what's going on, you may start to move more stiffly, or even worse, you may start avoiding movement! Not only that, but worrying about your pain and thinking the worst can actually make the severity of your pain worse! As they say - stay calm and carry on as normal!

If you have any worsening pain, or symptoms that are preventing you from doing what you love, I would absolutely recommend a consultation with a physiotherapist who can discuss your individual situation and provide an individualised plan to help you get on top of those symptoms and even prevent them coming back!


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