"is this the way to beat backache"
Steve Lydon has suffered from lower back pain ever since he was involved in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago. Left with 2 injured vertebrae in the lumbar part of his spine and 3 compressed discs, he spent 3 months in traction in hospital. That helped mend the damage, but the pain never went away.
At times it was so bad that Steve, 43, couldn't stand, sit or walk, and was unable to work at his company organising races for ex-Formula One cars. "It was miserable", said Steve, who lives in Northleach, Gloucestershire. "I used to get terrible sciatica in my right leg to the point where my toes went numb".
When he heard about a new device, designed specifically to relieve lower back pain, he was more than willing to try it. Called Flexibak, the device has been created by osteopath Jason Rosser and his former practice partner David Ponton. It is made of eight wooden segments, each of which sits independently on a self-lubricating nylon covered aluminium rod.
The segments, and the spaces between them, have been designed to support the lower spinal column and body weight in such a way that gravity begins to reverse the compression accumulated throughout the day.
The patient lies on the floor and slips Flexibak under his or her pelvis. The segments then cradle the pelvis and the backbone, tilting the back upwards. As the weight-bearing lower lumbar spinal joints begin to relax, pressure on inflamed muscles, strained tendons, bulging discs and compressed nerves are relieved.
Patients rock gently from side to side, allowing the segments to massage the area. Steve, who has been using the Flexibak for six months, says his back has been better than at any time since the accident. "It works so quickly, too", he says. "If I stand awkwardly, or stumble, the pain sometimes returns. In the past I used to have to trek to the osteopath. But the device alleviates the pain immediately."
According to the Department of Health there are 27 million people in the UK who are affected by back pain during the course of a year. It is the country's biggest cause of absence from work, with 119 million days lost annually, costing industry £5.5 billion a year. Most sufferers have pain in their lower back, aggravated by the increase in sedentary occupations and a lack of exercise.
Hours hunched over computer screens, in cars or in front of the TV squash the lower parts of our spines, with the muscles around them tensing, leading, inevitably, to pain. The inventor of Flexibak, Jason Rosser, has treated thousand of patients with lower back pain during his career as an Osteopath. "Traction, movement and pressure are the three most effective ways of easing lower back pain," he says. "I wanted to find a way patients could replicate their effects safely themselves. I have been sent all sorts of back care devices, but many were based on dubious medical understanding and were largely ineffective. Eventually, I decided to design something myself using osteopathic principles, to find and treat the cause."
The origin of most back pain is the compression of the lower back joints. To reverse this, osteopaths recommend swimming and other exercises; Flexibak has the same effect, and ten minutes use a day is sufficient to alleviate pain for most people.
The device has been clinically tested and has helped patients suffering from a range of problems, including arthritis, sports injuries and rheumatism. Every person involved in the tests reported an improvement. It also proved particularly effective in helping pregnant women.
National charity BackCare, formerly known as The National Back Pain Association, says reported cases of back pain doubled in the Seventies, doubled again in the Eighties, and may well have done so in the Nineties. The charity found that women's back pain tends to last longer than men's. More women work in areas requiring repetitive physical tasks. They often have to bend and carry heavy loads in the home; pregnancy and menstruation can add to the problem.
Nicholas Marcer, former senior lecturer at the European School of Osteopathy, has evaluated Flexibak and says he was impressed with the results. "I would expect that if it was used early in pregnancy, Flexibak may help prepare the body for the postural changes that inevitably occur," he says.
"It would also keep the pelvic area free throughout the whole pregnancy and possibly make for an easier delivery. It is not just another gimmick. It will help relieve back discomfort but, in addition, will have more far-reaching positive effects to the user's general health."
Before using any back device, consult your doctor.