The Secret to Long Term Back Health


Back pain and injury is one of the leading reasons people take painkiller and costs our economy $ Billions every year from time off work. In an age where we can land probes on Jupiter, decipher the human genetic code and restore sight with the use of stem cells how is it that we cannot prevent something as simple as back pain.

back pain stats

Describing a symptom like back pain as “simple” may be misleading and although the causes of spinal dysfunction can be varied the basic mechanism, more often than not, is a reasonably simple one. One that if addressed early can be prevented and if understood can lead to long term spinal health.

As I have alluded to in previous articles the key to a healthy spine is movement. But more importantly consistency of movement.  It’s the daily lack of movement that our back is subjected to that is dangerous and leads to pain and dysfunction.

Our brain, muscles and joints adapt to the things we do every day. Muscles that are only used through a small range of motion, over time, will become short and tight. Muscles that aren’t used at all will become inactive, weak and ineffective. This will affect the movement and stability of the joints the muscles are attached to.


So what movements are you doing regularly and what patterns are you laying down for your body to remember?

The main culprit is prolonged sitting. The list of detrimental effects caused by sitting is long and not limited to the muscles and joints. Sitting causes the spine to be unsafely loaded leading to tightening of spine and hip muscles. These muscles which should be working to protect the spine from overload become ineffective.  All these actions are not conducive with a spine that can deal with the demands of daily activity.



The good news is the solution to the problem is completely simple but does require a change of mindset. A change to a routine of consistent and regular movement. Walking, exercise, hydration and stretching. Here’s some top tips to make this transition easy for you.

  • Monitor your steps and activity. Fitbit’s are great for this. They monitor how many steps you are doing per day and when you’re most active / inactive. iPhones now come with an inbuilt pedometer which you can access through the ‘Health’ app.
Pedometer App for iPhone

Pedometer App for iPhone

  • Involve walking in your commute to work. If getting public transport then hop off a stop early and walk the last 10 minutes to work. Do the same for the return trip home. If driving the car park it an extra few blocks away.
  • Get up every 20 mins at work. Sitting for longer than 20 mins is the critical period for the spine. You are more likely to encounter long term injury if you frequently sit for longer than this period. So get up often. Put the printer on the other side of the office so you have to get up and walk.
  • 15 mins of mobility / stretching a week. Yoga classes are great for keeping the joints supple, flexible and healthy. If you’re not a yoga sort of person then gentle stretching at home or as part of your normal exercise routine is easy and effective.


The list could go on for pages but the key is consistency. The small habits you do every day shape your future health. Start small. Implement one of these every day for a fortnight. Then add another to the list and so on. Don’t treat this like a detox or fad diet where you focus on it for a month then slip back into back habits. Make changes and try and keep them.

consistancy quote


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You are only as young as your spine.


Without fail twice a day ,like most people, I spend 2 minutes brushing my teeth, it’s a social norm. It’s hygienic, stops bad breath and prevents our teeth decaying. We value our teeth so much that we will also go for a check-up with our dentist a couple of times a year just in case there is decay or damage we can’t see. And quite rightly so.

But what are we doing to prevent the same decay happening to our spine. After all the teeth and spine are both made of the same material, bone. If you compare the role of both it soon becomes apparent that our spine plays a much more important role in our survival than our teeth. If you had to live without one you wouldn’t get very far without your spine.

Functions of the spine

  • Houses and protects the spinal cord. Communicating signals from the brain to the rest of the body, without which we wouldn’t be able to function.
  • Maintains our frame: This gives us strength, mobility and durability.
  • It is an attachment point for our muscles and ribs.

So the problem arises from the lack of feedback regarding the health of our spine. Unlike our teeth, we cannot see the daily health of our spine. In fact, the scary truth is that the spine can slowly degenerate over many years with no signs or symptoms at all.

“But I don’t do anything strenuous enough to cause decay to my spine”.

Unfortunately this is a common misconception, the truth is the less activity you do the quicker your spine is affected by osteoarthritis (degeneration); a moving door hinge will rarely rust. Sitting at work is enough to speed up degeneration in the spine. I have seen numerous people in their mid-20’s and 30’s who present to me with mild to moderate back pain that they attribute to posture and sitting at work. When we look at their spine on X-ray I am shocked at the rate of degeneration. Their spine is that of a 50-60 year old, all because they weren’t looking after themselves. Osteoarthritis of the spine cannot be reversed. Treatment and maintenance can help prevent progression of the degeneration but once you’ve got it, you’re stuck with it.

Rarely though, I am pleasantly surprised and see elderly people who have looked after their spine and have little degeneration and great movement, they are also healthy and happy. So what’s their secret? Consciously or sub consciously they all follow these four key principles

  1. Move often and move safely. Sitting for longer than 20 minutes causes undue stress on the spine. Get up and move as much as you can. Take part in regular exercise; this can be walking, yoga, pilates or going to the gym but move frequently!
  2. Don’t ignore your core. Your core brings strength to your spine. You need it like you need the tyres on your car.
  3. Eat well. A balanced healthy diet is needed for the health of all the cells in the body, including the bone cells. Smoking, excessive drinking and sugary foods deteriorate the health of bone making it easier for them to degenerate irreversibly.
  4. Get a regular check up with a chiropractor. Chiropractors specialise in the function of the spine and nervous system. This is our bread and butter, like a dentist is with teeth. Get a check-up regularly throughout the year to keep you at your best

Doing all the above regularly can make the difference between keeping mobile and having great quality of life into your later years versus being immobile, in pain and house bound. As a dentist once said “you only need to floss the teeth you wish to keep”, so go and floss your spine daily by doing these 4 healthy habits.


Written by Dr Callum Forrest MChiro, DC

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