Deborah Evans, Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and mother of four, gives advice on what you can do in your daily life to stay pain-free.
Aches and pains are frequently the result of wear and tear on the body. Whether we’re pushing our bodies too hard, not moving enough or simply starting to lose the elasticity of youth – sprains, strains and injuries can happen.
This type of pain is usually caused by damaged muscle tissue, tendons and ligaments and may only persist for a short time until it has healed. It’s referred to as ‘acute’ pain. This is different to chronic pain, such as the pain experienced with arthritis, which occurs as part of a long-term condition and is in the joints. Even so, acute pain can be severe and may have a negative impact on a person’s life, disrupting their day-to-day routine, sleep and emotional wellbeing.
By taking some simple steps, you can help protect your body from the stresses that lead to muscle and associated pain.
Warm up those muscles
Most muscle aches and pains are a result of suddenly moving parts of the body that haven’t been used in a long time. You may have overdone it with your new jogging or activity regime and now you can’t walk up the stairs without it hurting! This is sometimes referred to as DOMs, or delayed onset muscle soreness, because it occurs a few days after the activity. This type of pain is normal and will pass after a few days. It will also lessen each time we repeat the activity as our bodies become more used to the exertion and our muscles get stronger.
Stretching can help to prepare the body. Try dynamic stretches to warm up your body before exercising; these are moves, such as arm circles, or gentle neck tilts. Static stretches post-exercise are positions held for up to 60 seconds in the main muscle groups such as calves, hamstrings and quads, which may help to ease the pain of DOMs.
If you go into exercising too hard too quickly it can result in more serious injuries such as muscle tears, overstretched ligaments or damaged tendons. With any new form of exercise, you should aim to start slowly then gradually build up your endurance to lessen the impact on your muscles and joints.
Take your work environment seriously
An uncomfortable workplace setting can cause niggling pains from repetitive strain injury (RSI) such as through typing on a keyboard and using a mouse.
Minimise RSI by making some changes to your desk space. For example, you may want to use wrist supports whilst typing. You could also try bringing your mouse and desk phone closer to you to help keep your wrists straight and avoid any awkward bending. Get someone to take a phot of you at your desk and then look at your posture. How could you improve this to minimise recurring problems?
To help avoid back pain, try adjusting your chair to the right height and ensure it supports your lower back. You may also find that raising your computer screen so that the top of it is roughly at eye level can help.
Don’t sit for long periods
Sitting down for long periods isn’t what your body was designed to do – it puts additional strain on the lower back and may put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
If you sit at a desk all day, try to take regular screen breaks every 30 minutes to give your back some relief. Make the most of those office errands, such as photocopying and try walking across the office to speak to a team member instead of sending an email.
If you are in the car driving for long periods, you will feel more comfortable if you take regular breaks to stretch your legs. This is also recommended to avoid conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
General stretching exercises, or taking up pilates, or yoga can help to keep your muscles and joints supple and flexible, relieving muscle tightness and helping to realign posture.
Eat a healthy diet
Inflammation in the body can cause pain but it’s possible to limit it by eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, fish, and healthy oils. Avoid highly processed foods and those high in sugar as these are thought to provoke inflammation.
Staying hydrated is also thought to help ease pain. If you have a headache, drinking water may provide effective relief. But studies have found that water may also work at easing joint and muscle pain too, because it helps to lubricate joints and flushes our muscles of toxins.
Soothe your sleeping habits
Poor sleeping habits can be the cause of a bad back, so a comfortable mattress, pillow and the proper posture will help to avoid those uncomfortable nights.
It is important to maintain the natural curve of the spine when lying in bed. Ensure the head, shoulders, and hips are in alignment, and that the back is properly supported by the mattress. One of the best ways to do this is usually by sleeping on your back. If this is difficult, sleeping on your side can also help, but don’t bring your knees high up towards your chest, as this can make back pain worse.
When you haven’t been able to avoid pain
We can’t always know when pain will strike. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the smallest awkward movement can cause a twinge that lasts for days.
If you’re suffering from short-term pain, you may wish to take paracetamol initially (two tablets every four to six hours with a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours). For acute strains, sprains, muscle and joint pains and where inflammation is causing the pain (e.g. period pain or toothache), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID), such as ibuprofen*, aspirin or naproxen, may be effective when taken in place of or in addition to paracetamol.
Individuals should speak to their pharmacist or pharmacy team member to find the best painkiller for their type of pain and check that it is fine for them to take.
Deborah Evans is considered a national pharmacy leader and is an elected member of the English Pharmacy Board and Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Deborah does not endorse any products or brands.
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your own or your family’s health.
*Care Maximum Strength Ibuprofen 400mg Coated Tablets. Contain ibuprofen. For strong, powerful relief from pain due to non-serious arthritic conditions, headaches, rheumatic pain, dental pain, neuralgia, colds and flu. Always read the label.