Low back pain is a very common health problem worldwide and a major cause of disability – affecting performance at work and general well-being. Physiotherapist John Lyttle explains his role at AXA, the advice he gives for back pain, and gives us some tips for looking after ourselves at work and at home.
I’m a physiotherapist and I work part-time for AXA and in a private practice. At AXA there are four physiotherapists in Bristol within a team of over 20. We have a great culture here, we all try and do our best for our patients and help our colleagues grow and develop. We take either inbound or outbound calls, so if a members calls up, for example with back pain, they'll tell us what's been happening, we'll ask some specific questions and we might ask them to do a few little movements while they're on the phone. From there, we'll have what's called a clinical presentation and we’ll tell them which path we think they should take. It can either be self-management, where we would give them a few exercises so they can take care of themselves, or we can send them to a physio, chiropractor or consultant.
People are usually in pain when they call. It feels good to be able to give them some advice to reassure them and start the process of getting them better. You're hopefully making a difference to their journey, building their function levels and helping them get to where they need to be. The most common calls are about back ache, and then joint issues, some of which are degenerative changes or are simply due to being inactive over the working day.
Tips at work
My first tip for being healthy at work is to change your posture regularly. You don’t need to have perfect posture – if you sat with perfect posture for eight hours a day you’d still get back pain – what you need is more movement, the spine doesn't respond well being static. Second, every 45 minutes or so you should get up and go on a short walk, it doesn't have to be a proper walk every 45 minutes, but instead of sending an email to someone, get up and walk over to them, get something from the printer, get a glass of water, go to the toilet, whatever it is. It’s about taking small little breaks to give the spine a break. Also, keep hydrated!
Healthy for life
It’s important to do a mixture of exercise – as opposed to just cycling or running, you should mix it up with some cross training – for example, cycling and yoga. Yoga is great for physical well-being just generally. If you’re working in offices all day, sitting in the same position, challenge your body to get into different positions. It’s also fantastic as a de-stress mechanism. For older people we encourage some resistance training. Naturally, as we get older, we start losing the elasticity of our muscles and density in our bones and resistance training is really useful to combat this.
Stress levels can often manifest and have a physical impact, causing pain in the shoulders and neck, so we’d also encourage people to have a look at any particular stresses that they have outside of work. Meditation is a very powerful tool for stress and for becoming a bit more in tune with your body as well. Finally, socialising is really important. Having a group of friends that you can speak to, away from work, is important for your general well-being.
Get on your bike
I cycle to work and it’s a great way to get exercise done early in the day. It helps to start the day with more energy and, because of that endorphin release, I find I don’t need to drink coffee! It’s also a useful way to wind down at the end of a shift. If I’ve had a complex case, it helps to mentally unpack it while I’m cycling home. It’s also quicker than sitting in Bristol traffic! AXA has a bike store and showers, which is really useful. It is a really supportive employer in this way. We’re always looking at how we can get both members and our colleagues on the path to a healthier working life – little things like shower facilities do make a difference.