Whether it’s minor or severe, almost everyone will experience back pain at some point during their lifetime. According to the American Chiropractic Association, as much as 80 percent of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.
“Back pain can be the result of an injury or can develop overtime as the result of degeneration, but it can also be a result of lifestyle behaviors,” explains Jeffrey Rihn, MD, orthopaedic surgeon with the Rothman Institute at Riddle Hospital. “Many people don’t realize how much their daily habits can contribute to back pain.”
Could your lifestyle be the cause of your back pain? Dr. Rihn goes behind some of the most common causes for back pain and offers suggestions for how you can correct them.
Your sleeping habits
Did you know that the way you sleep at night could be contributing to your back pain?
“Falling asleep on your stomach seems like it wouldn’t be any additional pressure on your back, but it can actually flatten the curve of your spine,” explains Dr. Rihn. “And, if your neck is turned, it can result in neck and back pain between your shoulders.”
If you’re a stomach sleeper, alleviate some of the pressure on your spine by placing a pillow under your lower abdomen, or try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees, instead.
In addition to how you’re sleeping, make sure what you’re sleeping on is comfortable. If your mattress is lumpy, too hard, too soft, or more than 10 years old, it may be time to replace it.
When it comes to footwear, fashion often takes precedence over function. But when it comes to preventing back pain, it’s best to put function first. To prevent back pain, you might have to shelve some of your favorite high heels and flip flops, two types of shoes that are most commonly linked to back pain.
Next time you’re shoe shopping, look for a pair that is designed to work with the natural arch of your foot and provides strong support for your entire foot. An appointment with a podiatrist can help you determine what features are most important for you to look for in a shoe.
Your fitness routine—or lack thereof
While back pain might seem like the perfect excuse not to exercise, an active lifestyle can actually help prevent your back pain. Muscle stiffness and weight gain, particularly in the midsection, can contribute to back pain and often be alleviated with the help of exercise. Get started with a simple walking routine, or find something you enjoy—like yoga, Pilates, dance classes, swimming or jogging.
Of course, exercise can also cause back pain if you’re not doing it safely. Improper technique during exercise classes or in the weight room can lead to muscle strains and back pain. Work with a trainer or physical therapist to ensure that you have the proper lifting technique or form for your exercise routine.
In addition to helping to keep your weight under control, eating a proper diet can help reduce inflammation in the body. Foods that contain saturated and trans fats, simple sugars and white flour can trigger inflammation, causing an inflammation of the joints and—you guessed it—back pain.
Keep inflammation under control by limiting your intake of red meat, processed foods, white bread, pasta, and rice, whole-fat dairy, sugary drinks and snacks, and fried foods.
It’s been a long day and you’re stuck in traffic. The last thing you’re probably thinking about is maintaining proper posture. But research has shown that spending multiple hours each week slouched over in a car—whether you’re the passenger or the driver—can have negative consequences on your posture and result in acute back pain.
While you might not be able to skip your commute, you can make small changes. Try periodically rolling your shoulders, buying a back support cushion, and adjusting your seat so that it’s a little greater than 90 degrees.
Your desk job
Standing desks, stretching breaks, and walking meetings are a wonderful thing, but the truth is that most Americans still spend their workday sitting. And all that sitting leads to plenty of back pain.
“Most people assume that sitting is much easier on your body than standing, but sitting in your desk chair actually puts 40 percent more pressure on your spine,” says Dr. Rihn.
Even if you have to spend most of your day sitting, give your back a break by looking for opportunities to stretch or get up and move your legs. During conference calls or conversations with co-workers, arch your back for a stretch or lean back slightly to stretch your muscles.
Your smoking habit
In a 2014 study from Northwestern University, researchers confirmed a longstanding link between smoking and back pain. The research found that smoking increased the risk of developing chronic back pain, and that individuals with back pain who smoked were three times more likely to report chronic aches a year later than those who did not smoke.
If you’re a smoker, quit. Your decision could impact the likelihood of being impacted by long-term back pain.
If back pain is plaguing you, even after making adjustments to your lifestyle, make an appointment to talk to your physician.
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