“You can’t replace your back in the same way you can a knee or a hip – we need to look after our backs the same way we do our teeth.”

Janette Lee knows what she’s talking about. As a chiropractor at Peterborough’s Broadway Chiropractic Clinic with over 30 years’ experience, she sees the first-hand results of a nation with increasing back problems. The statistics are pretty eye-opening: the Office of National Statistics reckons that musculoskeletal issues – to which back problems are a major contributor – were responsible for over 30 million days off work last year. Lower back pain affects more than one in 10 people and is said to cost the NHS in excess of £500 million a year. For many, desk-based office jobs involving long hours don’t help, while the home and its wealth of domestic chores can also be a problem for the back.

The back is an incredibly important structure, and eight out of 10 of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives,” adds Michael Oldfield from Deeping Osteopaths. “A lot of work takes place in the lower back, and although the spine is quite stable it is also fairly flexible, much makes it vulnerable. We’re doing a lot more sitting down these days, which can stress the discs, weaken muscle groups and cause and imbalance in the spine.”

So what can we do to protect our backs? It seems like there are a host of things we can do in our daily lives…


Looking after your back starts at home, because domestic chores like hoovering are a key contributor to back injuries – something Oldfield puts down to the movements involved. “Backs don’t tend to like activities that involve lots of reaching and twisting, and hoovering is a classic example of this,” he says. “It’s a good idea to keep the hoover quite close to you so you don’t overreach.”

As strange as it may sound, chores like hoovering can actually be good exercise and, as such, overdoing it can lead to pulls and strains. “Don’t hoover first thing in the morning, because your muscles aren’t warmed up,” advises Lee. “And when you do get round to it, the most important thing to remember is to bend your knees.”


You might think gardening is a calm, relaxing way to spend a Sunday, but your back might not agree. “I see a lot of injuries related to gardening, which are the result of people going for too long without taking a break or trying to do too much,” says Oldfield. “If you’re reaching, twisting and extending when cutting hedges, for example, that can be bad. You’re in a fixed position for a long time, and your back muscles can tighten up if they’re not used to it – this can result in spasms and restricted joint movement in the spine.”


Even something as apparently menial as loading and unloading a dishwasher can be a strain on your back, with most plate-stacking and cutlery loading occurring just above floor level. Very few allow the user to stack dishes at waist height without the need to bend down.

“A product like that could certainly help your back over the long-term, because people bend down to stack a conventional dishwasher which can stress the lumbosacral junction,” says Lee. Oldfield agrees. “It may sound innocuous but using something like a dishwasher for years and years could result in a repetitive strain-type injury. Long-term back pain is caused through constant bending, which puts stress on the structure of the spine.”

The office

With modern life for many Britons basically involving sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, it’s no wonder that a lot of people in office jobs are said to have more sedentary lifestyles than those who are retired. But that doesn’t have to mean that your back is the thing that suffers.

“Sitting upright doesn’t necessarily help – the angle between the the back and knee should be greater than 90 degrees,” says Lee. “And here’s a tip for many men: don’t sit with a thick wallet in your back pocket, because you’re raising your buttock and it can cause issues in the sacrum region at the bottom of the spine.”

Meanwhile, getting your monitor in the correct position is important. “If you work with a screen make sure the top of it is at eye level, so you’re looking straight ahead, and make sure your wrists and forearms are supported, with a right angle going through the elbows. Supporting your arms takes tension out of the neck.” Many offices these days have standing workstations – making use of these can help.

Exercise at work

We’re not talking about having a meeting while you’re on a treadmill, but there are ways in which everyone can factor movement into their working day. “Many offices are becoming more paperless so we’re even walking to the printer a lot less these days,” acknowledges Lee. “When you can, go for a walk at lunchtime.”

“Exercise is definitely the key,” says Oldfield. “It’s good for the mechanics of the back and good for stress relief – and stress can actually contribute to back pain. Try to keep walking around every half an hour or so at work.”

Ultimately, there are many things we do every day that can hurt our backs, but by knowing what they are and how to approach them sensibly you can try to make sure you’re not one of those 10 million people in the UK whose backs are causing them pain. “I’ve treated a lot of builders, fencers and roofers over the years, who’ve spent years not lifting properly,” admits Lee. “As a result some of their backs are in such a terrible state that they may not be able to continue until retirement. Doing the same, repetitive movement for years can be a problem, so you have to look after yourself.”

As Lee said herself, you can’t get another back. The only way to avoid problems in the future is to look after it.