Back pain is not something to be taken lightly. Aside from common cold, it's the most popular reason for doctors visits! It interferes with your daily routine, whether that be bending over to pick up your toddler or breaking a sweat in the gym. It's true that some back pain comes with age, but check out these 14 daily habits that cause back pain from Prevention so you can delay back pain for as long as possible.
You have a long commute. Hunching over a steering wheel can tighten chest muscles and cause your shoulders to round. Slumping posture can zap energy and make you look heavier, not to mention cause back and neck problems. Back pain is the number one complaint of the patients of Darran W. Marlow, DC, director of the chiropractic division at the Texas Back Institute, and he advises them to first think about their driving posture.
Fix it: "Be sure you sit at a 90-degree angle, close to the wheel so you don't have to stretch," he says. "Extending your leg puts your back in a compromised position, but many people don't even realize they're doing it."
>> Read more: 6 Stretches to Help with Back Pain
You're a desk jockey. Did you know that sitting puts 40 percent more pressure on your spine than standing? But let's be honest: Maintaining proper posture is probably the last thing you're thinking about when under a work deadline. And on a jam-packed day, regular stretching breaks may not seem like a wise way to spend your time. But skipping these habits may cause your back to suffer. That's because back muscles will weaken if you don't use them; inactive joints lose lubrication and age more quickly.
Fix it: Sitting at a 135-degree angle can reduce compression of the discs in the spine, so lean back slightly every now and then. Do it when you take a phone call or a coworker stops by to chat, Sinett recommends. Make sure your office chair supports the curve of your spine, he says: Your lower back should be supported, and your head should be straight—not lurching forward—when you look at your computer screen. Get up and walk around for a couple of minutes every half hour—take trips to get water, use the bathroom, or grab papers off the printer.
>> Read more: Desk Chair Remixes for a Healthier You
You don't veg out. It's not all in your head — chronic or acute stress can directly trigger back pain. When you're under the gun, your whole body clenches up, including the muscles in your neck and back. But muscles that contract need to relax eventually, says Sinett. If you're stressed all the time and those muscles stay tight, it can eventually cause major pain.
Fix it: Sometimes even just realizing that stress may be at the root of your pain can help, says Sinett. Then you can prioritize ways to calm down each day, be it through exercise, laughing with a friend or partner, reading a good book, etc. One particularly helpful therapy, research shows, is listening to music. In an older Austrian study of 65 people who had herniated disks, researchers found that a combination of music and relaxation imagery significantly reduced lower-back pain. Everyone got standard medical care (painkillers, physical therapy), but half also listened to music and performed relaxation exercises every day. After 10 days, the music group reported less pain while climbing stairs, getting out of bed, and even sleeping. After 21 days, the music group's overall pain was more than 40% less than the nonmusic group. "Music helps reduce stress hormones and muscular tension," says researcher Franz Wendtner, a psychologist at the General Hospital of Salzburg.
>> Read more: Beginner's Guide to Meditation
You skip the gym. Get moving to alleviate aches and pains and fix back pain faster. Research shows that 40% of people become less active after back pain strikes—a strategy that's likely to delay healing or even make their condition worse.
Fix it: In fact, most sufferers would benefit from more exercise—particularly frequent walks, which ease stiffness, says spine surgeon Raj Rao, MD. For instant relief, he recommends stretching your hamstrings and hips.
Your mattress is really old. Can't remember the last time you replaced it? Your back may be in trouble. A good mattress lasts 9 to 10 years, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but consider replacing yours every 5 to 7 years if you don't sleep well or your back throbs. A study at Oklahoma State University found that most people who switched to new bedding after 5 years slept significantly better and had less back pain.
Fix it: When you do replace your mattress, take a Goldilocks approach: Pick one that’s not too squishy or too hard. Very firm mattresses can increase pressure on the spine and worsen pain, say Spanish researchers. A study of 313 people revealed that those who caught Zzzs on medium-firm mattresses were more likely to report pain improvement than those on firmer ones. To help ease nighttime discomfort even more, tuck a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back, between your knees if you're a side sleeper, or beneath your stomach and hips if you snooze on your belly.
You don't do yoga. By improving circulation and lowering stress, just about any kind of exercise promotes back pain recovery. But yoga may be best. University of Washington researchers say yoga eases lower-back pain faster than conventional exercises. In a different study, 101 patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first group took weekly yoga classes and practiced at home; the second group participated in weekly exercise sessions developed by a physical therapist, plus practiced at home; and the third group received a self-help back care book. After three months, the yoga group had better back-related functioning, compared with the other two groups. And after six months, patients who took yoga reported less back pain and better back-related functioning. Because it promotes deep breathing and relaxation, as well as stretching and strength, yoga may help with both emotional and structural triggers of back pain.
Fix it: You can find yoga classes everywhere — at gyms, YMCAs, and local studios. Make sure to tell the instructor about your pain so she can help modify certain moves for you. Get started with these six pain-relieving yoga poses.
You're a crunch addict. Sit-ups and crunches may actually cause more back pain than they prevent, according to Sinett. We hear all the time how a strong core protects your back, which is true. But crunches don't work the ab muscles that stabilize your back. In fact, they can contribute to pain by causing what Sinett calls core imbalance, "a condition of excessive compression, which results in the spine curving forward in a C-like shape."
Fix it: You don't have to ditch crunches entirely, but you should do them slowly and use proper form. Include them as part of a broader core workout that also strengthens your transverse abdominus. This muscle is particularly important for a strong, steady core that supports your back, and the best way to strengthen it is with (non-crunch!) exercises like these. Added bonus: you'll whittle your middle and beat hard-to-torch belly fat while improving posture and relieving back pain.
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