Prescribed exercises and digital healthcare: Two ways to improve your back health this Back Care Awareness Week (3 October – 7 October)

This Back Care Awareness Week, Catherine Quinn, President of the British Chiropractic Association, shines a light on the easy steps people can take to improve their back health and mobility, whatever your age. It’s not about drastically changing your routine or running a marathon – it’s about incorporating simple steps into your day to day routine to break up the periods of sitting or being still.

Back pain is something almost everyone can experience at some point in their lives – it can affect anyone at any age, and it is increasing; disability due to back pain has risen by more than 50% since 1990 [1]. Data from The State of Musculoskeletal Health 2021 report shows that over 20 million people, which is nearly a third of the population, live with an MSK condition, such as back pain [2].

Back and neck pain can of course develop at any age and is usually not serious, however many of us are spending more time being sedentary, whether that’s sat at a desk, watching TV or using tablets in the evening. Research shows us that lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for lots of health concerns, including back pain, and that intensified efforts and initiatives are clearly needed to address the burden of low back pain as a public health problem [3].

Wearable tech and apps

Utilising the recent significant rise in digital health technology is another way you can help improve your back health this Back Care Awareness Week. The advancement and use of wearable tech and apps is becoming commonplace amongst healthcare professionals to support and educate patients in managing their own health.

Wearable technology is a great tool for healthcare practitioners as it tracks instantly accessible data 24/7 – including movement, level of activity, heart rate, instances of pain, biometric positions etc; all of which can be used to assist with treatment. Digital apps such as Whoop, which aims to help the user understand their health better through heart rate variability technology, is something which is becoming more and more prominent in healthcare. This specific platform offers a service where healthcare professionals can track the patients progression through significant statistics – these can then be adjusted to the patients needs.

Exercise software

Another way to improve back health this Back Care Awareness Week is using exercise software, which has been on the rise due to the recent advancement in AI. With the government investing £2 billion into the digitisation of the NHS in a bid to ensure the long-term sustainability of the UK’s healthcare system [4], this is likely to grow in popularity with the advancement of new technologies.

These developments are going to continue to be integral in sustaining the healthcare system, providing effective tools for patients to manage their own health and for practitioners in providing effective treatment. The movement towards digitisation comes with many benefits but can also pose challenges. It is vital that these innovations strike an effective balance in ensuring face-to-face contact remains readily accessible and that those more vulnerable patients can still access the care they require.

Prescribed exercise

Exploring the vast benefits of prescribed exercise is just one way to help improve back health this Back Care Awareness Week. A recent survey from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that while a quarter of people say that they would be more active if advised by a nurse or GP, 70%-80% of clinicians don’t speak to their patients about exercise [5].

Prescribed exercise is in the form of a specific plan of fitness-related activities that are designed for a specified purpose, which are often developed by a healthcare professional. Due to the specific and unique needs and interests of the patient, the goal of prescribed exercise should be focused on motivation and customisation, making achieving goals more likely.

It’s well known that simply adding exercise into your day can have an instrumental impact on both a patient’s mental and physical health. This is very much the same with prescribed exercise which simply implements a structured timetable of exercise in a more rigorous way. An increase in exercise levels is linked with significant reductions in morbidity and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, arthritis and osteoporosis; reduced anxiety and depression; enhanced well-being; and improved physical function.

With a patient-centred approach, BCA members see huge potential in working more closely with patients to understand their needs to provide them with the best possible, evidence-based care. Healthcare professionals can use chiropractors expertise in MSK conditions, leaning on them for support with patient caseloads. Equally, chiropractors can use the experience of working with other healthcare experts to grow as professionals in a collaborative healthcare environment.