Nobody tells you these things about back pain

We are Pulseath, an international team of entrepreneurial tech students at Aalto University in Finland. We want to revolutionize the way back pain is treated, with the power of the newest technology. For that, we went on the field and spoke with people.

What people say is not what people do

We spoke with different people about their back pain and two groups crystalized out of that: office people who sit for long hours and frequent gym goers. Both groups experience back pain regularly — out of inactivity or too much and asymmetrical muscle activity. Very often, these groups overlap. We asked the latter group “How do you know that you exercise correctly?”. Many reacted with surprise, honestly saying that they don’t think about it, that they simply know they do it correctly. A professional athlete confessed with a sad smile “When it starts hurting, it is already too late — you’ve been doing it incorrectly for way too long.” Many of the people rely a lot on the trainers to correct them. We went to numerous gyms and training classes to observe what really goes on — namely, trainers barely have time to correct everyone in the room. There was a clear need for feedback and for seeing their own progress among people who exercise regularly. We were onto something…

People are curious about wearables and personal health data

Starting with our project in January, we encountered many people to own a wearable that they got as a present. In general, there is high curiosity towards the own activity and health data, wearables are getting more affordable, with more features and longer battery life. People do not check them daily, but they enjoy getting a comprehensive feedback based on the data collected. And they shall be comfortable to wear and non-intrusive — no one wants to get commands to exercise from their watch.

Rest as a good way to counteract back pain?

We launched also a questionnaire hoping to get more insights especially from the office group. Numerous participants regarded their office jobs surprisingly as “heavy work”. For many young people, rest is the best way to counteract the pain they experience. These were unexpected results for us and a sign that we have to dive deeper and search for more. We needed to understand the backs better, so we went out and offered people in an office back massage.

People love good care

In less than two hours, we learned more than in three weeks of interviewing. The people we massaged had stiff shoulders, plenty of tensions in the middle back, and not to mention the mother of all back pains — the low back pain. The willingness to share with us more about their daily life and ways to take good care of their back was overwhelming for us — instead of lukewarm short answers, we good long, personal and honest explanations. These are our main learnings, the things nobody tells you about back pain:

There is always an explanation for the pain

It is part of the way we think that we need to make sense of the things happening around us. Back pain is no exception — everyone we spoke with told us the reasons they have noticed, and these reasons were not what we thought — long sitting hours or wrong exercising. People much more spoke of particular conditions that caused them pain — training football on hard soil, working on an unergonomic table causing nerve inflammation, stress leading to stiff shoulders. People pay attention to their surroundings and are able to recognize what is good and bad for them on the long run.

Back pain gets worse with time.

When asked what health-related issues they experience, young people tend to mention acute trauma and recent injuries, ignoring the back pain that is almost part of everyday life. Elderly people see it different and warn us: it’s going to get worse with time if you don’t exercise regularly and build healthy posture habits.

Your body is amazingly adaptive, and it is never too late to start taking good care of your back.

Starting small is a big step — one of the interviewed persons agreed that the first few days of working standing were tiring but after just few weeks she got used to it and now can stand 90% of her working time! The human body is amazing and through regular exercise one can reverse the effects of years long wrong posture. Persistence is the key to a healthy life. Even if you start at very late age (50+), you can improve significantly your life quality in few years!

People (and employers!) are willing to invest in long-term solutions.

Thanks to employer’s support for healthier life, people do not shy away from checking out new solutions. Since our team is international and fairly new to Finland, we used our deeper interviews in order to understand better the culture of a nation famous for being very sportive and active. One employer, for example, welcomes the initiative of the employees and invests in equipment for 15-minutes stretching sessions three times a week for the whole team. Employees in Finland trust on the backup from their workplace for renewing office furniture with modern, ergonomic chairs, tables and saddles. Beyond that, they also invest an average of 60 Euro monthly for exercise groups, gym, and even professional massage. All of the people we spoke with reassured us that they’d be interested to acquire also smarter devices to help them stay in good form.

Our findings help us prototype a product that will help people take continuous care of their backs. If you are interested in enrolling in our beta-testing group starting in March, sign up via https://pulseath.github.io/