8 Common Causes of Back Pain and Easy Solutions
Whether you’re a gym junkie, a mom, an athlete or have a regular 9 to 5 office job, chances are, you’ll eventually deal with back pain. There are many contributors to back pain and it is the simple, everyday activities you do without thinking such as brushing your teeth, sitting at the computer, washing dishes, and crawling into bed at night that can make or break your spine health. Most aches are caused by strains (injured muscles or tendons) or sprains (damage to the tough fibrous tissue, or ligaments, located where your vertebrae connect to joints). These injuries are typically brought on by overuse, a new activity, excessive lifting, or an accident. Other times, it’s due to a compressed (better known as pinched) nerve, such as in a herniated disk.
Here are the 8 leading causes of back pain:
- Spending too much time on gadgets.
On average, people spend over 9 hours a day hunched over or slouched in front of a screen. Research shows an increase in texting, and spending time on our smartphones and tablets is what’s creating more aches and pains in our shoulders, necks, and backs.
It’s important to take breaks, do neck exercises, and occasionally hold your phone or tablet out in front of you.
- Having a desk job.
Sitting all day is hazardous. It puts more pressure on disks and vertebrae than standing or walking. Alleviate the tension with an office makeover. Start with a lumbar-support cushion and adjust your seat so your computer monitor is at eye level, your arms and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and your feet rest on the floor.
Remember to take breaks at work. Even a 2-minute walk around the office every couple hours will help.
- Ignoring your core.
When you hear the word core, you probably picture six-pack abs. But your core is composed of much more: Back, side, pelvic, and buttock muscles that all work together, along with your abs, to allow you to bend, twist, rotate, and stand upright. Your core is like a crane that supports all of your movements. A bad back is usually a sign of a weak core.
Unlike crunches, which focus solely on abdominal muscles, core exercises lunges, squats, planks, and others strengthen several spine-supporting muscle groups at once.
- Sleeping on your stomach.
Sleeping on your stomach places pressure on joints and muscles but sleeping on your side or back keeps your spine elongated and neutral. If you must snooze on your tummy, slide a thin pillow under your hips to alleviate pressure on disks, ligaments and muscles. Regardless of which way you prefer to sleep, go with a medium mattress, a pillow that keeps your head in line with your spine. Shows that people with chronic low-back pain who sleep on medium mattresses had fewer aches after three months than those who slept on firm beds.
Your bed should be not too hard (this wreaks havoc on hips and shoulders) and not too soft (this puts your back and joints out of whack). To make sure you get the right mattress, check the manufacturer’s scale of firmness and opt for the one in the middle range.
- Smoking cigarettes.
Cigarettes aren’t just terrible for your heart and lungs. Research shows that smokers have a higher incidence of recurring back problems than nonsmokers. The cause and effects of this are many. Nicotine restricts blood flow to vertebrae and disks, so they may age and break down more quickly. It may also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, leading to osteoporosis-related bone and back problems. You know what you have to do: Quit.
Visit smokefree.gov to customize your own smoking cessation plan; start now!
- Being depressed.
Studies have shown that people with back pain are more likely to be depressed. Research shows that people with major depression were four times as likely to develop disabling low-back and neck pain. Some scientists believe that poor coping skills related to depression, such as withdrawing or avoiding problems, may trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, causing back and shoulder muscles to tense up and spasm. The result can be a devastating cycle of chronic pain and depression.
Mood enhancers like yoga and exercise, release endorphins, and can help ease stress and make you feel better.
- Fashion trends.
Sure, sky-high stilettos are a no-no, but it turns out that flats can cause trouble, too. Sandals and flip-flops often provide little, if any, arch support. Continuous wear can lead to back, knee, and foot problems down the line. But don’t worry, you don’t need to settle for all function and no flair. Alternate styles throughout the week from high to low, sneakers to sandals and avoid wearing a particular pair every day. Shoes should fit properly and offer good arch and heel support. If you walk to work, wear shock-absorbing sneakers, then slip on cuter shoes once you get to the office. Your purse could also be to blame, especially if it’s big and you have it over one shoulder. Try a tote with a wide, padded strap; carry it messenger style; and lighten the load.
Keep a nice pair of shoes at work so you don’t have to carry them around with you all the time and be sure your purse weighs less than 10 percent of your body weight.
- Too much rest.
Lying down minimizes stress on the lumbar spine; however, staying sedentary for more than a day or two can actually prolong and worsen pain. Studies show pain sufferers who remained active recovered more quickly and felt less depressed than those who took it easy. Low-impact activities like walking and swimming boost blood flow to back muscles while relieving pain and stiffness. Yoga, with its emphasis on stretching and strengthening, may be one of the most effective spine soothers. After three months of weekly sessions, 60 percent of back-pain sufferers reported less discomfort, and 40 percent were able to get off pain meds.
Get out of bed. If you must lie down, do so for a few hours and for no more than a couple of days. Light activity is best.
Acute back pain comes on suddenly but improves over time. Chronic pain worsens and can last several months. If you don’t feel better after a couple days, go see a good physical therapist in your area who specializes in back pain. Acupuncture, and exercise such as yoga, stretching, and strength training will also help.
Thanks for reading!