8 out of 10 Americans will experience back pain in their lives. But while back pain is familiar to many of us, it still leaves many people wondering what caused it….at least when the reasons don’t seem so obvious.
While not a substitute for professional evaluation and treatment, here are six factors to watch out for in order to prevent an episode of back pain or to keep existing pain from getting worse:
1) Engaging in activities you are not accustomed or regularly trained to do.
Irregular exercise is a big contributor to back pain, and the “weekend warriors,” those who are sedentary during the week and push hard on the weekends, are often looking for trouble.
In short, if you take on something tough after being relatively sedentary, you can seriously hurt yourself. And it’s not just the risk of injury while you’re doing the activity that you have to worry about. For example, if you are doing high-impact sports without cross-training first to strengthen your torso, your spine may not have strong enough muscles to support the impact.
Dedicating as little as 15 minutes three times a week to torso exercises and stretching can help prepare your core for more intense activities later in the week.
2) Carrying A Child
Kids who are heavy can exert a lot of force on your spine. And if they are struggling and squirming, causing you to twist and bend, the forces on your spine can be sudden, severe, and unpredictable.
Although there is not an ideal position to carry them, though some carrying positions are worse than others. For example, having a person directly on your spine is one of the worst things you can do, so piggy back rides may not be the best thing.
When you’re lifting your child up (or any object, for that matter), focus on keeping your shoulders over your pelvis as you bend your knees, and try not to move too far forward while you grab on. This will help you engage your supportive back muscles properly.
3) Poor Posture and Sitting/Bending Improperly
Slouching is, of course, not great for your back. And if you sit for a long period of time without proper lumbar support, added stress is placed on your discs.
Perhaps the most pressure on your discs occurs if you are seated and lean over to pick something up. This is particularly hard on the lower back.
So if you drop something when you’re sitting in your desk chair, stand up to get it!
Smoking is harmful for the discs of the spine. Discs degenerate at a much higher rate in smokers. Some spine surgeons have commented that smoking adds an element of difficulty in the recovery from spine surgeries, like fusions, if not in the surgery itself (heavy smoker).
Any activity that involves repeated rotation of your upper torso in relation to your waist has the potential to cause microtrauma to the lower back. Over time, the cumulative effects of this can damage the lower back later in life.
6) Insufficient Sleep
Your spinal discs don’t have blood vessels to bring a direct supply of nutrients. Instead, they are nourished by absorption of water that occurs at night, and depletes during the day. Getting at least seven hours of sleep every night allows your discs hydrate again.
7) Saggy Mattresses
A mattress that sags or dips in the center will bend the spine abnormally. In the past, it was believed that a very hard mattress was better, but it now appears that sleeping on a soft-top mattress with firm coils underneath is much better.
It also helps to adjust your pillow based on the way you sleep — a thicker pillow for side sleepers and a thinner one for back sleepers — to reduce neck pain.