Jo Atkinson’s tips on back care

BLOG: Jo´s Top Tips

Added : 24/11/2015

More then 90% of the population suffer from a bad back at some time in their life. Most problems are down to obesity, incorrect lifting or bending, poor work ergonomics, strains and tightness, general weaknesses in the back and a sedentary lifestyle.

As an elite athlete, I have suffered with a lot of back trouble over the last year. Fortunately, this was resolved via assessment, treatment and advice from a physiotherapist. I’ve written this blog to give my top tips on how to maintain a healthy back to help with the prevention of back issues.

Tips for maintaining a healthy back:

1) Posture:

  • Poor posture through slouching while standing, sitting and moving can put unnecessary strain and stress on your spine, thus causing tension in the back and stress on the muscles ligaments, discs and spinal joints.
  • Good posture does not mean adopting a traditional military pose and standing to attention. The key to good posture is to stand ‘tall’ with your shoulders down and relaxed back. Shoulders and pelvis should be aligned.
  • To help achieve this, imagine a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your head. This will help elongate your body and lengthen your spine. Slightly tuck your chin in to elongate your neck.
  • Most people stand two ways – either with their bum sticking out so the pelvis is tilted forward, or with their bum tucked under so the pelvis is tilted backwards. Good posture requires a neutral pelvis to keep your spine aligned. The key to maintaining this posture is developing good core strength to help you stabilise your spine and pelvis.
  • Sitting for long periods of the day puts even greater strain on the spine than walking or standing. If you spend the majority of your day working at a desk, you should adopt good postural habits to maintain a healthy back. Put a rolled up towel or a small cushion in the small of the back to help support your trunk. Make sure you take regular breaks from prolonged sitting and have a walk around.


2) An Active Lifestyle:

  • Leading an active lifestyle is an excellent way of preventing back pain. Regular exercise will keep the back supple and strong, and it improves posture too.
  • Walking and swimming are great forms of low-impact exercise to strengthen the muscles that support your back without putting any strain on it.  Swimming in particular is great exercise as the water supports the body so no impact is placed on the spine. Walking for exercise will strengthen muscles in the feet, hips and torso as well as improving your spine’s stability.
  • Regular exercise and a good balanced diet will help maintain a healthy body weight. Too much upper body weight can put extra strain on the lower back, making lower back pain more likely to occur.


3) Pilates:

  • After I’d suffered for weeks with sciatica and lower back pain, my physiotherapist recommended starting Pilates classes. Pilates works on improving posture, strengthening core muscles, and improving flexibility and balance.
  • Strengthening the core muscles provides structural support for the entire body but especially stabilises the trunk and pelvis to align the body.


  • Pilates exercises are done on a mat, with the focus on maintaining correct form throughout, with a neutral spine. Pilates will teach you how to achieve neutral hip and spine alignment and to activate core muscles.
  • From beginners to elite athletes, anyone can benefit from Pilates, regardless of age, ability or level of fitness.  I attend a weekly class and have seen huge improvements in my core strength, posture and back strength.
  • It is essential that if you are suffering from any injury or back pain that you first seek the advice of your doctor or a physiotherapist before undertaking any new exercise regime.

4) Massage Therapy:

  • Regular massage therapy has benefits both physically and emotionally. Some health benefits are improved blood circulation to aid in the recovery of muscle soreness, increased range of movement and improved flexibility.
  • Massage therapy can be used to improve posture and help the body to get back into proper alignment.  Massage can help loosen and relax the muscles that tighten up through bad posture, thus allowing your body to adapt into a healthy postural position. A massage therapist should also be able to assess your posture and can provide individualised strengthening and stretching exercises.
  • Stress can contribute to making back pain worse. Massage therapy can have psychological benefits in providing stress relief via relaxation. An increase in endorphin levels which provide a ‘feel good’ factor can help in the management of chronic pain.
  • For anyone with severe back pain, you should first see your doctor before seeking massage therapy treatment.



5) Foam Roller:

  • An inexpensive alternative to massage therapy is a form of self massage through foam rolling. With the aid of your body weight, the roller allows you to apply specific pressure to points on your body in order to release tight muscles and reduce muscle tension.
  • Do not use the roller directly on your lower back, as pressure placed directly on the spine could cause more damage. Instead, focus on releasing your glutes (bum) and hip flexors. Prolonged tightness in these areas could contribute to lower back pain.
  • For upper back tightness, you can roll directly on this area to help reduce stiffness and tension.
  • To begin with, full body weight might be too much pressure for you so reduce by using your hands and other leg for more support.
  • If you find tender spots, use short and slow concentrated rolls over the area until it releases. Avoid rolling too quickly.
  • Never use the roller directly on an injured area.



6) Heat therapy:

  • I have personally found heat therapy is an excellent therapeutic method of relieving tension, stiffness, and general aches and pains in the lower back. Heat applied to the lower back stimulates increased blood flow, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the muscles to help heal any damaged tissue.
  • Heat stimulates your sensory receptors in your skin, causing the transmission of pain signals to the brain to decrease. I often use a microwavable wheat bag on my back after hard training sessions and after long shifts at work.
  • The unique structure of the wheat grains heat up quickly with just a couple of minutes in the microwave and then release that heat slowly over time.
  • Make sure you follow the specific heating instructions on the wheat bag and do not overheat it.

[ lifted from Jo Atkinson’s blog at ]