The following is a forum post by a woman named Maria suffering from back pain who has not been adequately helped by her doctors:
“I suffer from back pain and have done for several years, it seems to vary from day to day, sometimes its like a dull ache and others a burning sensation that runs the length of my spine. Initially it was attributed to a weakness of the lower abdominal muscles but it has gradually spread to encompass my entire back.
I work in a retail environment which require me to stand all day, I have two fifteen minute breaks and one hour lunch during a nine hour shift, I am required to bend my back and reach for things as well as lift products like sand and cement in order to check underneath bags for any missed items.
All my doctor has done is told me to loose some weight and see if this improves my condition, I have been trying and have only managed to shift a couple of pounds. I don’t eat an unhealthy diet, I eat plenty of fruit and veg, avoid junk and eat small portions.
I am 4’9″ and weigh around 11 and a half stone, I am top heavy wearing a 36H bra.
What do you think causes the back problems and what can I do other that take painkillers and keep trying to loose weight?”
Back pain can wreak havoc on all areas of life; it can ruin our ability to sleep, work and enjoy ourselves. Maria’s description of the pain itself is vague, but she gives us three possible contributing factors of that pain:
Work-Related Back Pain
Most jobs are not designed with our body’s needs in mind. Whether you’re a desk worker or a laborer who stands all day, you likely have some sort of back pain. Maria stands, reaches and lifts for most of the day.
Standing for long periods of time can lead to postural distortion, especially among women. Weak core muscles can certainly contribute to this, since these support the spine. If the spine is not supported, it curves unnaturally. The muscles of the lower back will attempt to compensate for what the pelvic, hip and abdominal muscles are not doing; this leads to lower back tension and strain.
Getting your workplace to adopt a more ergonomic design is challenging but worth the effort. Labor unions will likely back you on this effort. Start by asking your co-workers if they experience the same kind of pain as you do. If many workers are suffering, you may be able to convince your manager that eliminating pain means increasing productivity. See the resource guide at Ask Jan for extensive information on how to apply ergonomic principles in your workplace.
As for self-help, people who have repetitive use or overuse injuries could benefit from studying the Alexander Technique, which emphasizes using only the muscles necessary to perform actions while maintaining optimum posture. This sounds too simple, but most of us unconsciously move much more than we have to when performing tasks. See Alexander Technique for details on the Technique.
You probably have muscle imbalances if you lift or reach with only your dominant arm. This means that the muscles involved in that action are more developed than those on the other side of the body. If your right arm, shoulder and back are more developed than your left side, for example, these muscles will be tighter and shorter, causing your spine to be pulled to that side. This type of distortion can cause pain and injury. Try to use both hands as much as possible.
If you are overweight, then all of your muscles, ligaments and tendons are working harder than they were designed to. Everything from sitting to lifting involves muscle use.
Maria illustrates an important point: Not everybody can lose weight simply by eating foods that are good for them and limiting portion sizes. Some people need a more structured diet, like the Weight Watchers program, which tracks caloric intake. Being aware of how many calories you take in and how many you are able to burn off during the day empowers you to safely and directly effect your weight.
A large chest can absolutely contribute to back pain. Well-endowed women are constantly leaning back to avoid being pulled down in front by their breasts. This strains the back, shoulders and neck significantly.
If you do not want or cannot have a breast reduction, two other options are a very supportive bra and a back brace. The brace will make it easier for your spine to remain erect without overtaxing your muscles. It is hard to find very large bras, but they exist. See Big Bust Support for helpful resources and a positive attitude on big bustiness.
Like many people, Maria’s back pain is likely the result of a combination of factors. There is more that can be done besides trying in vain to lose weight and numbing the pain with drugs. If something isn’t working, it’s time to change tactics. Keep building up your core muscles, find ways to work more comfortably, try a new eating style and, finally, don’t let your chest drag you down (literally).