Back Pain: Britain's Hidden Crisis?

Working from home has become essential for many of us Brits and our homes have become our offices. As we have begun to live increasingly more sedentary lives, back pain is  something that many millions of people in the UK are now suffering from. Reporter Joe Crowley has been finding out the best ways to ease the ache.

Joe meets Professor Vybarr Cregan Reid an author who has written all about environments and how they are changing our bodies, he says:

“Inactivity is driving all of the big killers. So it's increasing the likelihood of all of those type two diabetes, heart disease, quite a few cancers, but also it's affecting mental health as well.”

We meet Carole from Manchester who works from home. Carole says she spends most of her time sitting. She began to get back pain after a period of illness ten years ago and has now been diagnosed with arthritis of the spine and this pain is stopping her from being more active. 

Carole said:

“It's sort of an ache in the lower back, it's not there all the time. I noticed it when I change posture, when I've changed from sitting to standing or even bending over.”

Professor Vybarr Cregan-Reid says:

"Arthritis is when the cartilage on our joints wear away. There is a lot of cartilage on the spine. It's very normal for people of our age to have arthritis at some point on the spine because the discs that separate our vertebrae, because they degenerate with age, one of the best ways to manage it is through free movement."

And it’s this ‘free movement’ that both Carole and reporter Joe decided they are going to do more of. They take part in a special TONIGHT experiment overseen by the Professor. Using NHS guidelines they will aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise to see how this helps and we find out later on in the episode if Caroles back pain improves.

Although being active is important it’s also about consistency, Dr Stacy Clemes from Loughborough University has been studying the impact of remote working. 

She says:

“...even if you are physically active, if you do a single bout of exercise, say in the morning or at the end of the day, you could still be at risk, for example, of type two diabetes if you spend long periods of time in prolonged sitting. So the best thing is to regularly break up your sitting time… every 20 minutes 30 minutes or so, even if it's just for one minute standing, walking around two minutes walking around that will have long term health benefits”

Joe takes a look into other types of exercise recommended by doctors for back pain. He meets Tim who was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a painful condition that affected the bones in his spine and gave him pain in his hips and legs. 

They meet at a Lido in Portishead where Tim tells him all about the benefits of cold water swimming and how it has helped him with his pain management. 

“When I needed to start getting active, I didn't really want to run or to do anything that puts too much pressure on your vertebrae. So swimming seemed like the perfect thing…The benefits of cold water swimming are huge. It's so cold you don't have any chance to think about anything in your life other than what's going on right now. And any pain I have it just sort of dissipates…”

In a recent Tonight Poll we found that:

  • 35% of people spent over 7 hours a day sitting down

  • 80% of people said they’d experienced lower back problems

  • 40% of people said they had taken time off work because of back pain

If you are concerned about any back pain you might be experiencing please seek medical attention.

Web Link to NHS exercise guidelines