I never thought I’d become one of those people who complained about back pain, but given the fact I’ve been working stooped over a computer screen for the best part of twenty years it’s no surprise that the symptoms have been creeping up on me. What started as a little niggle when I wasn’t sitting well, quickly escalated to a full blown rotator cuff injury that took months to address; what I’m left with is a constant battle to keep the worst at bay, for fear I’ll awake one morning barely able to stand – and believe me, that’s happened.
Back pain is now recognised as a ‘leading cause of disability’ by the NHS and is significantly on the rise. With most of us glued to screens night and day, and exercises designed to help achieve the perfect posture left firmly in the 1960’s, it’s no surprise it’s such an increasingly common issue. Left untreated it can lead to significant debilitating conditions, so if you suffer with frequent discomfort and want some solutions to help, here’s everything I use to help to relieve my back pain…
ACUPRESSURE MAT (Amazon, £19.99)
A few years ago I spotted this on Cult Beauty, way back before I was brave enough to have acupuncture, and loved the idea of treating discomfort with a mat that does all the work for you. (Although to be honest, the £70.00 price tag made me wince so I went over to Amazon and picked one up for a third of the price…) The plastic spikes don’t penetrate the skin like traditional acupuncture, but instead provide a marginally uncomfortable amount of pressure to help relieve tension and encourage blood flow.
I tend to lie on this in bed for fifteen minutes before I’m ready to turn off the light, and it definitely helps to reduce the amount of tightness and discomfort I feel on the daily; it’s also great if you’re dealing with targeted issues and can be used on the floor, while seated or any which way you feel – but the results are pretty much instantaneous. Within a few minutes I actually forget I’m lying on it as the pressure dissolves away, so I tend to move it about to keep feeling the benefits.
The first few times you use this you should definitely do so while clothed or use a towel to shield your skin, but over time you’ll be able to build up tolerance and jump straight on without any additional protection. I actually really enjoy this and know I can rely on it to help soothe away any aches and pains.
BACK BRACE (Amazon, £18.99)
I’d been meaning to invest in one of these for years, specifically after my best friend’s husband recommended one, but it was only when I was experiencing those dire painful mornings that I clicked ‘add to basket’ on anything and everything I thought would make a difference. The idea behind a back brace, worn not unlike a backpack but without the luggage, is to pull your shoulders back and your posture straight – leaving your back in a much more stable and straight position, avoiding the stooped nature so many of us default to that causes the issue in the first place.
This is a bit ugly so tends to be reserved only for when I’m working at my desk, but I definitely feel like it makes a difference to how I feel at the end of the day. Often I’d have so much tension in my shoulders that I’d need 20 cushions to support me when sitting on the sofa, but when I’ve worn this my usual stiffness just isn’t as prevalent. The one I’ve bought is a bit flimsy so I feel like I’m going to invest in a more expensive and more sturdy version, in the hope it can help even more.
TENS MACHINE (Amazon, £28.99)
When my back is really giving me some jip and I’m in some serious discomfort, this has been an absolute life saver. I bought it on a whim when I was in so much pain I could barely stand, and wore it for a few days straight until it’d significantly subsided. This machine is super discrete and applies exactly where you need it thanks to a couple of sticky pads that keep it in place; I’ve worn it specifically at the base of my spine and around my neck, turning it on to deliver small electrical pulses that cause your muscles to spasm and therefore relax.
With a multitude of settings, including different strengths and patterns, this is so great at targeting the pain specifically – even if I don’t wear it day to day. I’ve worn it on dog walks and while in coffee shops, and even Josh has worn it to work when he’s been suffering with a bad neck. Although I’m yet to get past level one (this thing is hardcore!) I honestly wouldn’t be without it. You do have to charge it roughly after every ten uses and ensure you have a stash of extra sticky pads, but this is a dream when I’m feeling super stiff.
SUPPORT PILLOWS (Amazon, From £9.99)
Down the side of my bed there’s a magical place overflowing with all kinds of support pillows; you’d be forgiven for thinking it not out of place in an old person’s home, but I’m here for it because they really are my secret weapons. I started off with a knee pillow (who am I?) that helps to stop your spine from twisting if you’re a frequent side sleeper, and have since invested in a neck support pillow that allows your head to rest perfectly supported so you can slumber without discomfort. Although it’s a nightmare if you want to turn on your front or side, if I’m having issues and have a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders specifically, this is a great help. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get decent support, but it can take a little trial and error to find what works for you.
MEMORY FOAM MATTRESS TOPPER (Dunelm, From £45.00)
Another purchase I made on a whim a while ago, that’s actually come in handy in recent months. This is designed to add comfort and support, without having to invest in a whole new mattress (although, granted, that’s something we also need to do.) As soon as I put this on I have the best nights sleep in ages, but after a while it does seem to stop providing such a noticeable difference – so it’s something we tend to move around between our bed and the two sofa beds, depending how we’re feeling. It provides a gentle ‘sinking’ feeling that removes the pressure from my hips, back and neck which is essential for feeling relaxed and ready to slip off to sleep. Annoyingly ours now has a massive hole in it after I stripped the bed and Archie decided he was bored, but it’s a great temporary measure if you’re not ready to chuck a grand at a new mattress.
SANCTUARY SPA DE-STRESS WARMING BODY BALM (Look Fantastic, £10.00)
The first time I used this I didn’t read the instructions properly and found myself having to wash it off my limbs amidst a panic; this stuff is like Deep Heat! This self-heating cream can be used to soothe away aches and stiffness at the end of the day; it looks and feels initially just like a regular body lotion, but after about sixty seconds it gradually starts to warm up and leave tight areas instantly soothed. When used sparingly and in the right places this is a dream, helping to ease those sore areas and relax the muscles in a much more targeted way. Its scent is so much more pleasant and texture so much more maleable than Deep Heat, but it offers the same relaxing muscular benefit if you’re feeling a lot of tension.
AND ALSO, MONTHLY MASSAGES (The Massage Company, £44.95)
Not necessarily the indulgence you may think, a monthly massage helps to keep any major issues at bay and gives the targeted support I need to prevent any major issues recurring. I’m of the mindset that a deep tissue massage should be all about the motions and less about the faffy ‘experience’ that goes with it, and this provides me with just that. It’s a no-frills massage with a price that reflects the stripped-back approach, although you can choose from upgrades that include hot stones and aromatherapy.
Because I’m a member (and have been since they opened early 2019) I benefit from a reduced price, but this is still happily an expense I’d tally up knowing the overall difference it’s made. My masseur Diana knows my sore spots, is able to keep track of where I am and make recommendations month to month if she feels like I need something more – and that’s the experience you just can’t pay for at a faceless spa.
During lockdown they were obviously closed, and boy did my back know about it. Not being able to have a massage for five months left me feeling tense, stiff and in need of a good pummeling… So you can imagine the joy my back felt when I returned this August for my first one post Covid! Money very well spent.
Disclaimer: I’m obviously no doctor, no sports therapist and no back specialist, but these recommendations are based on my own personal experiences and are things I know have worked for me. Your back is such a fragile thing, so if you’re suffering with back pain and are looking for a solution, it’s always a good idea to consult an expert or speak to your GP before you do anything major.