Back Care Advice from Olympic Physiotherapist, Lee Barker

Lee Barker is the principal physiotherapist at Alderbank Physiotherapy, in Grimsargh, near Preston, and a member of the Olympic Physiotherapy Team for London 2012.

Lee was based at the Athletes Village Medical Centre in London and was responsible for providing physiotherapy treatment and support to Olympic athletes from all over the world.

This is Lee’s first hand overview on the problems associated with sitting too much…

“Aspects of modern lifestyles and occupations often dictate that people sit at a desk or workstation for lengthy periods, predominantly because many jobs and activities are now centred around a PC or some type of electrical device. Recent developments of more mobile devices have not taken away the fact that most people still generally sit to use them.


In the UK alone back pain is the single most common cause of lost working days, with the costs running into billions of pounds. Each year 2 million people attend their General Practitioners with spinal problems and over 300,000 are referred for specialist care. 

Evidence from the elderly suggests that virtually all of us will suffer from spinal pain at some point therefore we need to try our best to prevent it. The way we treat our spines on a day to day basis can have a huge bearing on whether we develop pain. 

Posture is very important and this is primarily to keep pressures low in our intervertebral discs. Discs are the shock absorbers and flexible connections of the spine. The spinal column is designed to protect the spinal cord and exiting nerves supplying our limbs. The main strength of the spine comes from the muscles around it, including our abdominal muscles. Repeated strain to these supporting structures can weaken the spine and eventually lead to pain and incapacity.

Unfortunately, due to the poor innervation of the discs we are often unaware that we are damaging them until it is too late and symptoms of back ache or more severe pain can develop. The intervertebral discs also have little or no direct blood vessels to supply it with circulation, therefore require regular movement to nourish them. 

This is best achieved with regular transference of weight from one foot to the next in a weight bearing/standing position. Sitting, especially for long periods, places the spine in a flexed posture and can strain and weaken the ligaments which are the scaffold of the spine. If repeatedly performed ie: sitting most of the day, then this will ultimately lead to pain.

Standing allows us to utilize the flexible shock absorbing capabilities of our feet and knees and help divert some of the load and strain from our spinal joints and muscles.

We have to remember that the human body was not designed to sit for long periods.

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