If you struggle with back pain, you’re not alone. At any one time, approximately 31 million Americans complain of low back pain, and general back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor each year. When most people think about common causes of back pain, they think of acute causes lifting a heavy object incorrectly.
While it’s totally possible that your back pain could have been caused by an incident like this, it’s also possible that certain aspects of your lifestyle are responsible for your pain. Listed below are three lifestyle factors that could be causing — or contributing to — your back pain.
Many people are surprised to learn that their pain isn’t brought on by a physiological issue, but rather by an emotional or psychological one. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your body in all kinds of ways, and it often manifests as chronic pain.
When you’re stressed, it’s not uncommon to constantly feel tension, particularly in the neck, back, and shoulders. Over time, this tension leads to pain — it can even cause bulging discs, which further exacerbates your symptoms.
If you’re suffering from chronic back pain and have a lot of stress in your life — whether it’s brought on by your job or a major life change — look for ways to relieve that stress.
Exercise, yoga, meditation, spending more time with friends and family, or spending more time outside and away from technology are all good options.
2. Poor Posture
Even if your job isn’t particularly stressful, it could still be wreaking havoc on your back. Slouching over a computer or hunching over your phone all day isn’t doing your spine any favors.
Poor posture strains the spine and the muscles that surround it. It can also compress the nerves and create problems with the discs and joints. Over time, you can even alter the natural curvature of your spine by constantly slouching.
To improve your posture and minimize pain, start by adjusting your workspace to make it more ergonomic. Raise your computer screen so it’s at eye-level, lower your keyboard so your elbows and wrists are relaxed while you type, and sit up straight with your feet planted flat on the floor.
Be sure to take regular breaks throughout the day, too, to walk around and stretch your neck.
3. Poor Sleep
Back pain often makes good sleep difficult to come by. But, poor sleep can also cause your back pain or make it worse since your body isn’t able to heal injuries as efficiently.
It’s a frustrating feedback loop to get into, and it may seem like you’ll never be able to get a good night’s sleep again. There are definitely ways to improve your sleep quantity and quality, though, starting with practicing good sleep hygiene.
Some characteristics of good sleep hygiene include:
- Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day
- Avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m. — or earlier if you’re particularly sensitive
- Avoiding electronic use at least two hours before bed
- Resisting the urge to nap during the day — this throws off your body’s circadian rhythm
You may also want to look into upgrading your mattress. An uncomfortable, lumpy mattress only enforces the back pain/poor sleep feedback loop by exacerbating pain and make it even harder for you to sleep well at night.
Tips for Managing All Forms of Back Pain
Whether you think your back pain is caused by a poor diet or unsupportive shoes, these tips — combined with the more specific guidelines mentioned above — can help you manage and alleviate your pain.
- Cold therapy for back pain in the form of an ice pack or cold compress
- Using a heating pad or hot water bottle to apply heat to painful areas and minimize stiffness
- Gentle stretching to loosen up the muscles and relieve stress
Chronic back pain is, well, a pain. Fortunately, lifestyle changes can often minimize or even eliminate this pain.
If you’re always stressed, sleeping poorly, or have bad posture, start by working to change the aspects of your life while supplementing with the pain management tips mentioned above.