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Health in Singapore

​Topics covered:

  • Back injury

  • Heat injury

  • Burnout

Health in Singapore

Our Backs

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Back pain is the price we pay for walking upright. As one of the leading causes of disability and time lost from work, back problems are a cause for concern. As we grow older, wear and tear and the constant pull of gravity on our vertebrae take their toll on our backs over time. With two out of three adults suffering from lower back pain at some point in their lives, it is important to understand the types of back pain, what can cause it, when to get help, how to prevent it, and how to treat it.

Types of Back Pain

  1. Acute 

    • Accounts for approximately 80% of back pain

    • Lasts from one week to three months

    • Develops suddenly, often by accident, fall, or lifting something too heavy 

    • Usually gets better on its own, without any treatment, although there may be times when medical care is necessary 

  2. Chronic

    • Accounts for 5-10% of back pain

    • Lasts for more than three months

    • Generally related to illnesses one may have or may have no identifiable cause

    • Most can be treated through effective treatments without the need for surgery 

Causes of Back Pain

  • Approximately 85% of back injuries and problems are due to mechanical reason

    • Caused by heavy lifting or an unexpected twist or sudden motion

    • Results in either a muscle strain or sprain

  • Other cases are due to physiological reasons

    • Caused by ruptured discs, arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia 

    • Often leads to more intense pain, especially when it begins to affect parts of the lower body like the hips and knees

When to Seek Help for Back Pain
If back pain is accompanied by any of the following, it is encouraged to seek immediate medical attention:  

  • Weakness or numbness in one or both legs

  • Pain going down one leg below the knee

  • Back pain from a fall or injury

  • Back pain accompanied by fever without flu-like aches

  • Pain that continues to interrupt sleep after three nights

  • Back pain that remains after six weeks of home treatment

Preventing Back Problems

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects and stretching for objects out of your reach. If you do lift something heavy, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and lift using your leg muscles. 

  • Get active and eat healthy. Being overweight can strain your back.

  • When sitting, keep the upper back straight and shoulders relaxed, keep knees slightly higher than hips, keep feet flat on the floor (use a footstool or book if necessary).

  • When standing, stand with weight equal on both feet, avoid locking knees and slouching. 

Treatments for Back Problems
Weight loss is an effective way to reduce back pain and improve overall health.

Exercise and therapy
Lifting and movement techniques to strengthen back muscles accompanied by frequent stretches to improve posture and relieve pain are found to be effective 
Seek advice from your doctor or physical therapist regarding which specific exercises you can do to relieve back pain, stay fit, and prevent injury

Most common treatment recommended by doctors for severe back pain 
Special pillows or devices may provide additional support to your back

Hot and cold treatments 
Heat can relax back muscles and sooth painful areas
Options: hot showers, heat lamps, warm compress
Cold has a numbing effect that relieves pain
Options: ice bag, commercially-made cold pack

Visiting medical professionals
A chiropractor can provide rapid relief to specific parts of the back causing pain
A physiotherapist may work with you to stretch tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles

Dealing with heatstroke

It comes as no surprise to many that Singapore is a hot and humid country. The equatorial climate in Singapore poses a significant risk of heat injuries, from heat rashes to severe injuries such as heat strokes. Hence, it is important to be well-equipped in spotting and dealing with heat-related injuries. More importantly, it is even better to take appropriate precautions to prevent said injuries.

Heat Exhaustion/Strokes
Heat exhaustion is a result of the body overheating. It is usually caused by over-exposure to exceptionally hot conditions, especially in the presence of high humidity and intense physical activity. An individual suffering heat exhaustion may complain of nausea, dizziness and muscle cramps. They may appear to be profusely sweating and be mildly disorientated with very fast heartbeat or a weak pulse. If left unchecked, heat exhaustion could lead to heat stroke which is life-threatening. Symptoms of heat stroke are seizures, brain injury, multiple organ failure and even death.

If such symptoms are noted, immediate treatment involves moving to a cool and shady place or better yet, moving the person into an indoor location which is air-conditioned to rest in a supine position with both legs and hip elevated to increase venous return. Drinking plenty of fluids and removing any tight fitting or unnecessary clothing is also necessary. Additional cooling measures which are helpful include fans, ice towels, cold shower or bath. These measures should be initiated within 30 minutes of onset, while waiting for medical personnel, so as to decrease severity of internal damage sustained.

However, prevention would be the ultimate remedy. As such, one should always make sure to wear sunscreen (SPF 30 and above), a hat or protective eyewear as well as remining well-hydrated. When engaging in sports, it is recommended to consume 250mL of fluid every 20 minutes, regardless of feeling thirsty. Before the physical activity, drink at least half a litre of fluids an hour before. If you feel unwell or have symptoms suggestive of heat exhaustion, do discontinue that activity and consult a doctor for an appropriate treatment.

The importance of learning how and when to stop (Burnout)

How do we know when we need to take a break?
Amidst our busy lives, we may not recognise it immediately when we are feeling burned out. Burnout is defined as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration” (Michigan State University). Apart from exhaustion, burnout also includes feelings of detachment and pessimism (Michigan State University).

Signs of burnout include physical symptoms such as disrupted sleep, stomachaches, headaches, body aches, or falling sick more easily (Michigan State University). Apart from feeling physically exhausted, we may also feel emotionally depleted, isolated, or more irritable, and may feel a desire to escape the situations we are in (The University of Iowa).  

The importance of learning how to stop
We may often be tempted to ignore our own well-being and needs, especially if we are afraid to allow our responsibilities pile up while taking a break. However, taking breaks is necessary to avoid depleting our physical and emotional reserves.

Firstly, drinking sufficient water daily helps us to regulate our body temperature, minimise the risk of infections, keep our organs functioning properly, and is beneficial for sleep quality, cognition, and mood (Harvard School of Public Health). In fact, hydration is particularly important because stress can result in dehydration, which in turn can exacerbate stress (WebMD). Hydration can help to manage physiological responses to stress (WebMD).

Allowing yourself to rest is also crucial. Sleep is essential for every process in our bodies and is necessary for our bodies to recharge (University of Michigan). It affects various things such as our physical and cognitive functioning, as well as our immunity, metabolism, and chronic disease risk (University of Michigan). However, there are other important ways to rest apart from sleeping. Taking time away from work to engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book you enjoy, having a cup of tea, or going for a walk, are also highly beneficial and simple ways to relax (Meritain Health). Mental relaxation comes with a myriad of health benefits such as maintaining cardiac health, reducing stress and muscle tension, improving cognitive functions such as memory, and improving mood (Magellan Healthcare).

Proactive self-care is important to help us protect our own well-being—which includes but is not limited to physical, mental, and emotional aspects. Becoming attuned to our own needs will help us to identify them periods where we may need to rest more easily, which can help to prevent us from reaching burnout in times of stress. Hence, we should make it a point to prioritize our well-being and set aside time for rest and self-care.

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