Six Surprising Causes of Back Pain that are Avoidable

Most of us know the usual culprits of back pain: stress, excess body weight, improper lifting technique, and poor posture. While these are a few of the typical causes, unexpected issues can also be the root of the problem. Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non organic, meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture or cancer (source).

Jefit spoke to Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a NYC area Orthopedic and Spinal Surgeon to discuss some of the surprising factors that could be causing your back pain. 

1. Smoking

Smoking increases brain activity which makes people less resilient when it comes to responding to back pain. In addition, smoking also causes premature aging of discs by decreasing blood supply to the discs, thus leading to pain in the lower back.

2. Time to Replace the Old Mattress

Old mattresses start to form dips from years of use. The dips in the mattress cause the spine to curve, leading to constant stiffness or pain. A mattress that is too firm can cause strain on pressure points in the knees, hip, shoulders, and back, which can cause backaches. If the mattress is too soft, your spine is not supported well enough, and the spine can fall out of alignment.

3. Your Backpack, Purse or Wallet

Structural imbalances in the spinal column can occur when you sit on your wallet. This can happen because one side of your body is higher than the other, and an excess amount of physical stress is placed on the lower spine. This can lead to lower back pain and numbness. Carrying a heavy purse or bag on one shoulder can also cause a neck and spinal tilt that can lead to backaches. Remove your wallet (and phone) from your back pocket when you are sitting down, and regularly switch your purse from one shoulder to another. 

4. Dehydration

When you are dehydrated, the spinal discs lose water, and your spine becomes distressed. When this happens, the spine takes on the full shock of your movements, which can lead to increased pain. Avoid drinks with caffeine and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. 

5. Your Cell Phone (“Tech Neck”)

Constantly hunching your neck over to look down at your phone compresses and tightens the muscles and tendons in the front structure of your neck. This creates imbalance and results in reduced mobility, shoulder and neck pain, a curvature formation at the upper back, and even headaches. In 2022, Americans spent a daily average of 7 hours and 50 minutes with digital media, including 4 hours, 26 minutes a day on non-voice activities on mobile devices — and it’s estimated that the daily average will be over 8 hours in 2023.

The strain on the neck is real and so is “tech neck.” Looking down at your phone can place the neck into about 30 degrees of flexion, comparable to lifting 40 pounds with your neck muscles. As neck flexion increases to 45 to 60 degrees, so does the load, increasing to 49 to 60 pounds!

6. Incorrect Ergonomic Work Set Up

Many people have been working from home as a result of the pandemic. Working from home more often has led to an increase in slouching and hunching in front of our laptops or other home setups for work. Slouching can lead to neck and shoulder pain, back problems, and stiff hips. Make sure to sit all the way back in a computer chair and keep your thighs horizontal to your knees at hip level. It is also important to make sure the screen is at eye level when seated or when using a standing desk.

Trainer Tip

When you feel like your back or neck are on overload, try this simple stretch, called supine 90/90. Lie on the floor face up (supine position). Bend the knees and place them on your couch or over a chair. This places the hips and knees at 90 degree angles. Breath and relax for seven to ten minutes. This will unload the spine and your neck and back should feel better. Gravity will help to restore your spine. Perform this stretch daily or as needed.

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