For this topic, lead physiotherapist Jan Vickery and her experienced team of musculoskeletal experts here at AXA Health answer your questions about coping with aches and pains.
Aches and pains can have a negative affect on your mobility, mood and even your ability to work productively on a day-to-day (and sometimes long-term) basis. The most common cause of joint pain in people under 50 is injury or overuse. Most cases occur from overdoing normal, everyday activities, such as lifting heavy bags or digging in the garden, rather than doing sport.
Here we’ve rounded up the best of the team’s support and insights around the most commonly asked questions:
Q. I have been getting achy knees and ankles after sitting at my desk all day in work. What could this be?
When you have desk-based job, it's really important to move around a lot during the day. Knees and ankles don't like being kept still for long periods; they stiffen up easily, especially as we get older. Aim to move at least every 20 minutes when you are desk based. If you are someone who tends to get drawn into intensive work and forget about taking a break then try to build indirect triggers to break, like drinking lots of water that will require comfort breaks or printing to a printer that is a short walk away. Instead of emailing colleagues, walk over and talk to them.
Also, try to fidget when you are at your desk - some people have stress balls on the floor to keep their feet moving. If you are worried about your stiffness and you feel it is not linked to sitting still for long periods or if it is noticeably worse in the morning then it may be worth seeing your GP.
Q. I have middle back pain, at either side of my spine. I have a feeling it may be posture related but what is the best thing to do to ease this?
We can often account for many of our aches and pains in our spine being due to posture or lack of the right type of movement. It’s important to try to maintain good posture throughout the day to prevent fatigue and slouching. Your chair should do the work for you by supporting your spine in a S shape.
Ensure you have good lumbar support (that's in the lower back of the spine), and take regular comfort breaks by moving away from your desk. You should aim to take a five minute break every hour. You can also do simple exercises at your desk to encourage flexibility and increase your circulation, as simple as standing up and stretching backwards or take a brief walk round your desk area. This will help alleviate any pain and discomfort. We always advise if any pain is not settling with these simple strategies to get in touch with your GP or get checked over by a physiotherapist for more structured advice.
Q. What are the best exercises to do throughout the day at work?
The best thing you can do during your work day is to keep moving regularly. We advise to try and move once every hour, even if that just means getting up and stretching at your desk or walking to get a glass of water or coffee. Simple exercises, like standing and stretching backwards with your hands in the small of your back are helpful or bending from side to side.
Think about your upper back, neck and shoulder area which can get stiff or hold tension. Rolling your shoulders, turning your neck side to side and lifting both arms fully up into the air to stretch your upper back are simple exercises. Doing tummy tuck exercises where you tighten your lower abdominal muscles for a few seconds can be very helpful (just remember not to hold your breath!) If necessary, your employers should be able to provide a workstation assessment for you to check your desk set up.
Q. I have been diagnosed with polymyalgia and have been prescribed steroids. What is it and is it possible to improve the condition naturally, without resorting to strong drugs?
Polymyalgia rheumatic is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips. The main symptom is muscle stiffness in the morning that lasts longer than 45 minutes. The cause is unknown, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to be responsible, and it’s fairly common.
While gentle exercise can be beneficial, because this is an inflammatory condition, it is often necessary to use medication to control it. If you’re concerned about the long term side effects of your medication we’d recommend you discuss this with your GP. Sometimes, a short course of steroids can be helpful to get things under control, then a reduced dose to maintain, but again this need to be discussed with your GP. In terms of exercise, gentle swimming or tai chi can be very helpful to maintain your flexibility, posture and strength.