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Executive back pain and tips to improve back health in your business

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Stephen Brown Executive & Senior Management

I am writing this from home whilst recovering from a nerve block injection to alleviate the pain of a bulging spinal disc pressing into my sciatic nerve.

Having had this problem for a few months, where I have tried many tactics to recover without an invasive procedure, two key points struck me:

1. The first was, I am fortunate enough to be reasonably fit and strong with few health issues, yet this problem has caused me to have more days away from work than anything else I can recall. According to the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics, Britain lost 137 million work days in 2017 of which 30.8 million days (22.4%), were due to back pain.

2. Secondly, the number of my peer group who told me they experienced the same problem is remarkably high. So many in fact that we could easily create a very large self-help group of CEO’s and Business Professionals with back pain.

The one thing we all seem to have in common is our lifestyle, even with a daily trip to the gym thrown in, most of us spend excessive amounts of our time sat in cars, on planes, at desks and around meeting tables. We are continuously on the go and the health of our back is something we take for granted until it is too late. We must therefore take measures to head back problems off before they happen or be prepared when they do. We owe it to both ourselves and our staff to minimise the potential risk of back problems. I’m not only referring to those high-risk occupations, which are obliged to attend the manual handling courses but those mirroring our own lifestyle; in sales, finance, administrative and service roles.

I have been extremely grateful and humbled by the support of my peers in business, who have also given me some great tips to alleviate my problem. Combined with the advice of medical professionals, I have listed the things which have helped me.

Please note, this list is personal to me and my back pain and I am not qualified to give medical advice. What I want to share is how I have applied my business thinking to alleviate my backpain, which is to introduce lots of 1% changes, capable of adding up to a big difference. I often quote that big doors swing on small hinges, so one of these ideas might make all the difference, but I reiterate I’m not taking responsibility for any loss or damage you may incur as a result of reading this I am purely sharing my story in the hope that it might help you and your staff.

1. Seek Medical Advice:

You are likely to be reading this article because you are already suffering from back pain. If you haven’t already sought it then seek the help of a medical professional. At Euro Projects Recruitment we provide Vitality Healthcare to all our staff. This was invaluable in getting me a very quick diagnosis and treatment plan, which went like this:

  • I called them and arranged to have a video consultation call with one of their G. P’s, which I took in the car, whilst pulled over in a service station car park on my way to the airport for a business trip! Very time efficient but I think we now know that this lifestyle was a contributory factor to the problem.
  • I was referred to my local private hospital and given a convenient evening appointment with a Consultant Neuro Surgeon who referred me for an MRI scan, I got the results showing a bulging disc within an hour and decided to try physiotherapy first but when this failed to solve the problem, I was booked in for a nerve block injection.
  • If you haven’t got private healthcare for your staff then I highly recommend it, I am only too personally aware what the cost of absenteeism through back health to a business can be. It also demonstrates you are an employer of choice and care for your staff.​

2. Strengthening and Conditioning:

When my back problem first started, I was recommended some exercises by a CEO friend of mine, these had cured his problem, caused by him sitting on his wallet in his back pocket when driving! These exercises helped me too but as I mentioned before, everyone’s back pain is different, so these may or may not suit you. They do highlight preventative exercises as well as those to alleviate the problem. you can watch them on the following links:

A fellow sufferer of back pain is my part-time FD, she recommended a book: “Treat Your Own Back” by Robin McKenzie, which includes several exercises my physiotherapist also gave me. My Physio reiterated the point that everyone experiences different problems and not all exercises are appropriate for everyone.

3. Drink Water:

Another symptom of a busy workload is forgetting to drink enough water. Ensure you and your team drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated. Dehydration can cause back pain when the gelatinous material inside your discs lose water and are unable to hold the weight of your body, this causes the disc to collapse which can put pressure on the sensitive nerves exiting the spinal column. It is easy to forget so put reminders to drink water and drinking points around your offices.

4. Stand Up More:

The NHS suggest that office workers should get at least two hours of standing each day, eventually working up to four. We have equipped all our staff with telephone headsets so they can walk and talk. Since my back pain I have also introduced the option of standing desks. You can spend a lot of money on new desks, which operate electrically, or you can retro fit existing work stations with a sit-stand platform. I bought a Yo-Yo sit stand desk which I have placed on my existing desk top. They even offer a free trial!



5. Stand in Comfort:

If you do go for a standing desk option, I also found that placing a rubber cushioned mat on the floor made standing for prolonged periods easier on my feet and legs. I bought my mat from Yo-Yo.

6. Invest in Ergonomic Chairs:

With so much of our time sat at desks, make sure all office chairs are fully adjustable to the comfort of the occupant, provide adequate lumbar support and are regularly upgraded.

7. Go for a Walk:

Encourage walking at breaktime, have some walking routes near your place of work mapped out and encourage staff to take breaks where they can stretch their legs. It will also help clear heads, get colleagues chatting and helps to avoid the post lunch slump which effects business productivity in the afternoon.

8. Use Your Own Time Wisely:

I was a regular gym goer, which stopped when my back pain became worse. What we do when we leave the office can be just as detrimental to the well-being of our backs; Business dinners where we sit down for long periods, long commutes sat in cars, slouching on the sofa watching TV, or hunched over a laptop catching up with work are all bad for our posture and will aggravate the problem. You can improve your back health in your own time by:

  • Going for a stroll when you get home, or if you have a long commute and there is a park en-route, break up your journey with a short walk.
  • Eat at a table, not hunched over on the sofa.
  • Stand up to a counter or breakfast bar to work on your laptop.
  • I found that lying down helped to ease my back, so I bought a back stretcher to lie on whilst relaxing, which took the pressure off my pinched nerve.
  • Book a regular sports massage to relax muscles and reduce tension in your body.


9. Review Your Sleeping Arrangements:

One of the worse symptoms of my recent back pain has been poor sleep, getting comfortable at night has caused a lot of sleep deprivation, which dramatically impacted on my energy levels during the day. I therefore decided to evaluate my sleeping arrangements:

  • Whilst my Physio suggested a new bed wouldn’t repair my degenerated disc, I am looking for incremental gains and an overall improvement in my symptoms as well as the root cause of my problem. The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress every 7 to 10 years, depending on comfort and support. The truth is that the life of a mattress varies wildly, which depends on how you take care of it, how you sleep on it and how often you rotate it. When I’m travelling for business, I often stay in a Premier Inn and I find their mattresses very comfortable and supportive. These mattresses are made by Hypnos Beds in the UK. Whilst my previous mattress was only 5 years old, it felt as tired as I did, so I tried out several Hypnos Beds in a local showroom and without realising it chose the domestic version of the bed used by Premier Inn. 
  • As I tend to sleep in the foetal position, so I also purchased a sculpted pillow to place between my knees. I was sceptical about how I would get on with this, but it has increased the comfort of my legs and back no end when I am in bed. I bought a Noffa shape memory foam pillow from Amazon.

10. Give Yourself a Break:

Be honest, when was the last time you gave yourself permission to relax for a reasonable period. High performing executives tend to work and play hard, with very little down time for themselves. I was forced to relax when I was told “What got you into this mess, won’t get you out of it”. I combined resting by lying down and a movement schedule of light walks, avoiding car travel and any form of reaching and bending, which reduced the aggravation of the problem. My problem struck me picking a car key off the floor but common triggers for back pain include:

  • Repetitive bending, such as weeding the garden
  • Slouching, such as looking at mobile phone screens
  • Reaching, such as getting items from the boot of a car
  • Heavy Lifting, such as moving furniture

11. Pain Management:

Many of my responsibilities are simply unavoidable. This requires me to evaluate my pain management techniques, as most prescription drugs seriously impair my ability to perform. I tried acupuncture which offered immediate relief but soon wore off. Daily, my top passive pain management tips for my own symptoms are:

  • Ice packs to reduce the inflammation and offer rapid relief.
  • Occasionally lying on a heated pad provides some comfort and is good for relaxing tense muscles.
  • I bought an adjustable back brace on Amazon by AgileBack, which prevents me from over reaching or bending too far. It also supports me when getting in and out of cars and when I cough or sneeze.
  • When my sciatic nerve pain was exceptionally bad and at the suggestion of my Physiotherapist, I bought a portable battery powered tens machine, you can purchase these from large pharmacies such as Boots, or on Amazon. I bought a “TouchTens” by Tens Care. Costing around £30, I find this to work straight away and can be worn during the day under clothing and turned on as necessary.
  • I am an advocate of meditation to help me relax and I subscribe to the Headspace App. On here I found a meditation programme purely for pain relief and this has also proven to be very useful to control my emotions around the pain and frustrations of not being able to do many things I take for granted.
  • I am not a fan of taking medication but I when I do, I use over the counter pain-killers paracetamol and Ibuprofen.

You can probably tell, we don’t run a recruitment business in isolation, we aim to help businesses build and keep teams operating at peak performance and their health and well-being is an essential part of this picture. With 80% of the population expected to experience at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime and with the high incidence of sufferers in my peer group, I sincerely hope these shared experiences may be useful to prevent and alleviate back problems in you and your business.

If you want assistance and support in the evaluation of your team, search and selection for key appointments or HR support services, please contact me, Stephen Brown at: s.brown@europrojects.co.uk or 01530 833825.

Please let us know how this article may have helped you, or feel free to share and add your own helpful suggestions for future readers of this piece.

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