Dr Clare Bailey: Back pain? Sit up and take notice

Around two thirds of us suffer from lower back pain at some time in our lives – recently I’ve been experiencing it, too. In my case it is just a bit of stiffness that I notice particularly when I shift position in my chair and when I stand up. After a long session sitting down I have to rise slowly, carefully unfurling my spine. 

Lower back pain is the most common cause of absence from work. If you have mild back pain like mine, what should you do? Instead of reaching for pills and injections, GPs are encouraging patients to get more active. The trouble is we don’t get a lot of training in non-pharmaceutical ways to help patients with back pain.

dr clare Bailey back pain
Maite Franchi/Folio Art

I contacted my friend Jamie Webb, a back-pain expert who runs Brighton Sports Therapy. He told me back pain is often caused by poor posture – without realising, most of us walk around hunched and spend far too much time lying on sofas or slouched over computers. 

This causes what he calls ‘adaptive shortening’, where tight muscles stay in the same position and, along with the ligaments, vertebrae and discs, get strained, which exacerbates any issues.

He recommends the following exercise to help you sit better:

First go into a really slouchy posture; most people find this easy. Next sit bolt upright, then rock between these two positions until you find one midway that’s ‘pelvic neutral’ and comfortable. With practice, this gets easier to maintain.

If you do a lot of driving, set the mirror when in the pelvic neutral position, rather than slumped, so you have to sit up to see the rear view. 

Watch your posture at other times, such as when standing or walking. Moving loosens muscles, which gives natural lubrication and reduces pain.

Some simple things to do for relieving mild back pain:

  • Keep moving, carefully at first. 
  • Keep checking your posture.
  • Take simple painkillers, such as ibuprofen, if needed. Stronger opiates are no longer recommended as they are addictive.
  • Use anti-inflammatory creams or hot or cold packs.
  • Deep breathing can help you find a comfortable position.
  • Find ways to reduce stress, such as meditation. This is important as often it’s the fear of pain that makes people freeze up. Stress also reinforces the problem by sensitising your pain receptors. ‘The more stressed you are, the more pain you feel, as it ratchets up the volume control on pain sensors,’ says Jamie.
  • For simple exercises to help with lower back pain, visit nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/lower-back-pain-exercises.

Although lower back pain usually resolves itself, consider seeing a physio, sports therapist or GP if the pain is not improving after a few weeks, if it’s severe, getting worse or affecting day-to-day activities, or if you have other symptoms such as numbness, weakness or tingling. 

Cracking good egg substitutes

Vesna Jovanovic/EyeEm

I am often asked what to replace eggs with if you are vegan or have to avoid them through allergy. Although there’s no universal replacement, here are some suggestions:

  • The wonderfully named flegg: 1 tbsp ground flax seeds and 3 tbsp water. Or chegg: 1 tbsp chia seeds and 3 tbsp water. Rest for 15 minutes until gelatinous.
  • When making meringues: aquafaba, the liquid from a can of chickpeas, works brilliantly (it’s also a good thickener). Use 50g whisked with 75g caster sugar.
  • Cakes: add plant-based milk to loosen the mixture and extra baking powder for lift. Experiment with mashed bananas and apple sauce for more body. Best suited to fruit cakes.
  • Scrambled ‘egg’: mash firm tofu with a fork. Mix with some ground turmeric for colour. Season and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add a little ground black salt (kala namak) for an eggy flavour.
  • Pancakes: mix 50g brown flour with 125ml plant-based or dairy milk. This makes two medium-sized pancakes.

If you have a question you would like answered, email drclarebailey@you.co.uk