Chronic back pain is a debilitating issue that affects a large proportion of patients with chronic pain issues, for a variety of reasons. The back is a center for pain for many because it’s where we have our spine, and the spine is as important as it is prone to injury.
Eight in ten American adults experience some form of lower back pain at some point in their lives, and acute as well as chronic back pain is the leading cause of job-related disability, contributing massively to healthcare costs and loss of productivity.
Having a healthy back is important for pain-free living, because our back muscles are minimally loaded at almost every single moment of the day, only getting rest during special spinal decompression and through certain sleeping positions.
Most cases of back pain are acute and leave no lasting effects on the spine. Meanwhile, many cases of chronic back pain begin with a hereditary or genetic spinal deformity, major injury, or post-surgery issues.
However, many other cases of chronic back pain are caused and/or exacerbated by lifestyle choices and everyday habits that cause the pain to start, grow, and become an everyday factor for grumpiness and depression. Here are ten habits that you should avoid, either to decrease your chances of developing a bad back in later age, or to help you cope with your current back issues.
1. Spending Too Much Time Sitting
Perhaps the biggest risk factor for lower back pain is sitting. The average American adult spends 13 hours sitting, only getting up occasionally to get some food, visit the bathroom, or in rare cases, do some minor stretching. 13 hours alongside an average 8 hours means most Americans spend only 3 hours a day standing and walking around, which is what our body is meant to do in the first place.
Sitting down is an incredibly unnatural position for us, leading to a large variety of muscular weaknesses, tight flexors and tendons, and an epidemic of lost mobility and lack of core strength. Most adults in the 21st century are experiencing a host of aches and pains because they spend most of their day sitting, and research indicates that a “sitting disease” has swept the developed world and is causing rising rates of mortality due to sedentary lifestyle choices.
Sitting on our behind causes:
- Weak posterior muscles
- Tight, shortened hamstrings and hip flexors
- A weak core
- An increased likelihood of an anterior or posterior hip tilt (leading to too much time spent in inappropriate spinal flexion and subsequent back pain).
- A variety of back muscle imbalances and posture problems, including rounded shoulders, shortened erectors, stiff rotator cuffs, lordosis, kyphosis, and more.
Take the stairs, avoid seats, petition for standing desks at the office, spend less time on the couch at home, and use corrective exercises to fix muscle imbalances and posture problems.
2. Excessive Usage of Smartphones
Just as we spend far too much time sitting down, we also spend far too much time looking at our hands. Smartphones have become nearly ubiquitous in society, as 77% of adults own a smartphone (compared to 35% in 2011). That number is much closer to 100% in younger generations, especially among teens.
Excessive smartphone usage has a significant effect on posture, promoting flexion in the upper spine and putting more pressure throughout the muscles of the back. Teens frequently struggle with rounded shoulders and sunken necks, setting themselves up for chronic back pain in the future. Adults are just as much at risk of developing chronic pain out of bad posture.
Consider cutting down on smartphone usage, or work on reversing the risk of pain by stretching your back in the other direction several times a day, through thoracic extension, rowing movements, and scapular exercises.
3. Gaining Too Much Weight
Obesity is another factor that adds to the development of chronic pain, not just throughout the back but in the extremities as well. People with obesity are more likely to struggle with joint pain and inflammation later in life, especially in the form of gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
Excessive body fat can stress the ligaments and joints in the legs, cause a tilt in the hips, and stress the back due to excessive anterior loading (belly weight). Hypertension and clogged arteries also lead to insufficient blood flow and a number of pain-related health issues, as well as other problems.
In people with a higher risk of developing obesity, or in cases where weight loss is slow, strength training and a healthy diet can keep the heart and muscles strong, reducing the strain on a person’s joints, keeping their posture in order, and helping the back carry the extra weight with less pain.
4. Wearing High Heels
High heels have been a fashion staple for generations, yet they may be a serious cause for concern regarding back pain. While women are generally built to tolerate lumbar flexion better than men (due to the added frontal weight during pregnancy), too much time spent in high heels won’t just lead to painful feet but can lead to pain in the back through a hip tilt and awkward biomechanics during walking.
5. Loads on the Lumbar Spine
Heavy lifting can be great for the back – if done in a way that appropriately trains the body to handle increasing resistance. Lifting too much weight or lifting weight in a way that loads a curved lower back will lead to excessive force on the spine, potentially causing a slipped disc or some other spinal injury.
Unless you’re trained to lift more, always ask for help when lifting anything heavier than 50 pounds, and be sure to lift with your legs, maintaining a straight back. The upper back tolerates flexion better than the lower back, but only in individuals with significantly trained upper back musculature. Avoid back pain and injury when moving furniture or lifting objects by loading your spine properly.
6. Tilting the Pelvis
Anterior and posterior hip tilt develop for a number of reasons, including styles of sitting, muscle weakness, tendon tightness, or walking posture habits. A posterior tilt causes the lower back to curve inwards, as though a person is perpetually slouched. An anterior tilt causes the lower back to curve in the other direction, commonly referred to as duck stance.
What this does is it increases your risk of developing back pain through improper lifting techniques and may be indicative of a current pain issue, which is why your hips may be tilting as a corrective or protective measure. Visit a physiotherapist or consult a doctor to get help on corrective exercises to manage posture issues and greatly reduce pain.
7. Having Flat Feet
Flat feet start a cascade of posture issues, starting with the ankle and knee and moving up into the hips and spine. If your feet collapse inwards, this can cause serious problems in the knee and lower back later in life. Corrective footwear helps, as do foot exercises to help your feet regain their natural arch, and to train the musculature in the feet and legs to support the knee and hip, rather than work against it.
8. Remaining Sedentary
Some things are irreversible. We are no longer in an era where manual labor is the norm, and the need to earn your pay through physical work is greatly diminishing year after year in the face of automation. Chances are that the sedentary nature of the average American will only increase, putting the onus on you, the reader, to make a change.
Frequent exercise can help the body stay healthy and load the spine appropriately, avoiding posture issues and the many different forms of chronic back pain that come with them. Make it a new every day habit to do just a little bit of exercise that you personally enjoy. While exercising in pain may sound counter intuitive, regular exercise can greatly reduce the effects of pain by flooding your brain with endorphins and strengthening the muscles.
9. Smoking Propels Chronic Back Pain
Although smoking tobacco is going more and more out of vogue, nicotine is making a comeback in a big way through e-cigarettes and vapes. Insidious marketing tactics and widespread popularity is causing many young adults and ex-smokers to pick up nicotine vaping as an alternative. This is a problem. While nicotine does provide minor pain relief due to causing a euphoric reaction in the mind, research shows that long-term nicotine use actually worsens chronic pain.
10. Ignoring the Aches
One of the biggest mistakes you could make on an everyday basis is wake up with aches and pains and decide not to visit a doctor. Ignoring growing pains will only lead you require expensive and extensive treatment down the line.
It costs very little time to go to a doctor and to make regular visits with a physical therapist, to correct any issues that might be presenting you with chronic and growing back pain. Catching the origin and cause of pain early on is your best chance at beating it.
The Bottom Line
These are just a few everyday habits that will contribute to your chances of developing a serious issue with chronic back pain. Avoid these habits and you’ll greatly reduce your risk.