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Pain in the neck…and back!

I’ve suffered from neck pain and lower back pain for years all down to having arthritis in my neck and spina bifida occulta, the mildest form of spina bifida which results in a small separation or gap in one or more of the bones (vertebrae) of the spine which is developed at birth. These two issues have meant a number of years of pain all along the back – right from the coccyx all the way up to the base of the skull. It generally means managing the pain through exercise but sometimes my methods slip or circumstances set off a pulled muscle here or a strained muscle there and it kick starts a bout of severe to crippling pain. Here I want to look at why this happens and how I have managed to handle the pain and work towards getting back from injury.

Two things seem to bring on the back pain; injury and extensive poor posture. To be honest, it’s generally a bit of both. I attack it three ways – treatment, posture and exercise.

Treatment – As well as some prescribed painkillers I looked at alternative treatment that might have helped too:

  • Heat therapy – I use heat packs and/or cold press at the site of the pain. Generally the heat packs help relax the muscle and the cold press reduces inflammation but I use whatever feels good or cycle between hot and cold every 20 mins for 2hrs.
  • Self-massage – yup, it can be done all by yourself. Some areas more difficult to reach but the idea is to relax and soften the muscle tissue so use hands or bear your weight on a golf / cricket / squash / massage ball at the site of pain an the muscles surround the area. It’s a bit painful at first but it feels good as the tightness dissipates. (Note: NEVER put pressure on the bones such as the spine, seriously…OW!).
  • Massage – I seeked my the loving partner…but ended up at the hands of a sports masseur. But the pain was worth it, kneed out those stubborn knots in my muscles with ease.
  • Acupuncture – the ancient Chinese “alternative medicine” using pins in pressure points has been constantly proven to help in injuries and ailments. So I tried it out once, and found it to be very effective. Tried it a few times since and still does the trick…rather than a fix though, it more just helped me move forward with rehabilitation.
  • Seek professionals – no matter what you try to do always seek your doctors advice. There are alternative professionals such as osteopaths and chiropractors and like doctors there can be good and bad ones so seek out reviews or recommendations from friends before setting up a consultation.

Posture – with many bad backs there is some form of posture issue. Whether this is brought on from an injury, lifestyle of pre-existing condition you will find problems with your posture whether small or large. While standing, sitting or even lying I made an effort to always try and maintain a relaxed but good posture, limiting the strain placed on muscles and ligaments during whether static or during movement or weight-bearing activities. I concentrated on three areas:

  • Standing – as my mom told you “stand up straight”. Feels like a string is gently pulling me up from my crown allowing my shoulders to sink down and back. This will help realign the posture and keep the spine elongated. Had to remind myself that my core should be doing some work too, my hips can drop back which leans my body leans forward. Tucking in the hips gently in and lifting then chest with my core helped maintain the posture.
  • Sitting – seems silly to say but doing stuff like not planting my feet on the floor properly or perching on the edge can start to cause fatigued muscles over time (and I do tend to sit for quite a while) and lead to pain. So i made sure i was relaxed, supported, grounded and not leaning toward a particular side to help keep the elongation of the spine.
  • Lying – yup, lying down too. I found i could still be hunched or bent so lying on the back (or otherwise). I made sure that however i was lying i kept a long spine, preference being on my back.

Exercise – this is where the real work comes in. The only way to correct my problem and maintain healthy was to exercise…exercise could have been the cause of a my back issue or at least a factor so it was important to get the exercise correct.

  • Mobility – one of the symptoms of my back pain was the lack of mobility as my muscles inflame and stiffen up making my ability to move very much inhibited. I made sure I take time out each day, maybe before you exercise to move through the complete range of motion of your body. This is not the same as stretching where we try to improve flexibility, but it will helped maintain my flexibility as the range of my muscles are used regularly instead of hardly ever.
  • Flexibility – to get my flexibility back it’s simple; stretch. This is nothing new, pretty much any PT, exercise blog or gym will advocate the use of stretching while warming up or cooling down or first thing or…well, they all have their own opinion on when to stretch and how useful it is for various things. My muscles will need help to loosen then up and keep them supple and stretching is the way to do it. There are many to try (see some of the links attached) – i just make sure i’m warm, don’t push to hard, relax into the stretch and make sure to breath deeply.
  • Cardio – Any kind of movement was painful but when I was able to move then i did. I just kept it steady (gentle walk) and built up slowly bit by bit, getting faster and longer.
  • Strength – when I was able to work the muscles I got back to a workout regime but focused on exercises to help correct the underlying issue and prevent further issues. Alike the cardio i kept it simple and steady. Bodyweight and band/pulley exercises worked well to build the functional strength


Note: I am a keen fitness and nutrition enthusiast who focuses on calisthenics and martial arts and have no medical background, but I do have tried and tested ways none of which requires medical treatment and none of which should conflict with any therapy you yourself may be undergoing. Everyone is different and it is possible to make matters worse so get some good qualified advice.







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