The relations between stress and back problems

Our modern technology driven lives can be stressful. Many people choose to work long hours and neglect their physical well being. But there is a penalty to be paid for those long hours at the computer and in Slovenia working days have, for many, become longer and more stressful. Little wonder then that medical professionals are reporting an increase in serious back pain. Ksenija Samardzija Matul from Radio Slovenia International investigates the link between back pain and lifestyle:

Lifestyles have changed immensely over the past 20 years. Stress accompanies us on a daily basis and this is not only the case for adults but even children experience stress in schools. Stress and a lack of physical exercise have changed people's habits. Part of the problem is that today's lifestyle often includes long periods of sitting, at work, during the commute to and from work, at home watching TV or at the computer. And it's in this sitting position that poor postural habits tend to develop, like hunching over and slouching in the chair.

I visited Dr. Ivica Flis Smaka a specialist for physical medicine and rehabilitation and asked her where she sees the major problems of modern lifestyle and the consequences on our health:

"The trouble of a modern lifestyle is not only sitting a lot and little exercise but it is a complex issue, a wrong kind of lifestyle and also an unhealthy relationship towards other things. There are long tiresome working days and there is no balance - the upper torso is burdened the most and so are the head and shoulders. Of course hours and hours of sitting in one position and the wrong eating habits cause problems and we are not out enough in fresh air, not enough time is left for recreation and relaxation and of course we are also not well organized."

However it is hard to find the right balance. Our working days often end between 6 and 7 in the evening and in between there is usually not enough time for a proper lunch and this again causes stress. According to Dr. Flis Smaka Regular exercise three to four times a week for 60 minutes is recommended and this is not only good physical exercise but also good for our psyche where we can get rid of all the load that has accumulated. Long working hours and no physical exercise can have very unpleasant consequences, Dr. Flis Smaka:

"This wrong kind of lifestyle leads to the quicker wearing out of the motor system: there are problems in the neck area, the chest, the hip, knees and feet. Sitting in front of the computer in one position, e.g. causes pain below the breastbone and people often think that this pain is related to the heart. There are a lot of neck syndromes with heavy pain and cramps in the shoulder area with strong headache and all this is actually caused in the shoulder area."

These health problems start in childhood. According to Dr. Flis Smaka children resemble their parents in their habits:

"They are used to going to school by car, they are used to sitting in front of the TV or computer for most of their time and they rarely read. They need a lot of motivation and even pressure just to get them to engage in physical activity in general because they are not used to it. It is a fact that not only problems of the motor system occur but also scoliosis, flat-feet and damaged hips and knees. These children weigh far too much and this again causes bad habits. Parents should serve as a role model for their children."

Many spas, medical and recreational centres in Slovenia see that there is a necessity in offering programmes to help patients with back problems. I went to of the medical-recreational centres in Maribor to see what they offer. The head of Sales Doris Urbancic introduced the most popular programmes:

"We have special exercise programmes for the back. This programme is carried out in the gym as well as in the pool."

Doris Urbancic confirmed that many young people need treatment and take part in their programme to relieve pain and prevent it from worsening in the future:

"The problems sometimes start in school; children already have these problems and I think they often don't realize what kind of problems they could have if they failed to exercise during their growth. The people that come are from 16 to 60 years old, or more, but the majority that come are aged between 30 and 60."

Very popular are also various wellness programmes for men and women that help people relax and forget about stress. Prevention is better than cure and this is why several so-called manager programmes are frequently booked. The number of visitors coming for a thorough medical examination is rising. Although it is called a "manager programme" this examination is available for all those who feel stressed out, Doris Urbancic explains:

"We have three kinds of manager programmes: a basic medical examination for managers, the basic preventive medical examination, and the extended preventive manager programmes. All kinds of people go through these check ups, those having stress during the workday but also managers in middle management; the majority of them are aged between 30 and 50 years. Also older people come."

Until people fundamentally change their lifestyle there will continue to be plenty of work for doctors like Ivica Flis Smaka.