There’s a reason that lower back pain is one of the most common chronic conditions affecting Americans. More than 80% of us have it at least once in our life. More women suffer from chronic back pain than men. Older-age adults are more susceptible to back pain than younger adults or children.
The bones and muscles in your back work hard to keep you upright and serve as pivot points for everything from running to grabbing the pen you’ve dropped on the floor. Turns out there are some very common ways to mess your back up. Knowing these helps be proactive to avoid the pain before it’s too late, or, at least, recognize a possible cause of back pain if (and when) you get it.
1. Don’t take your eyes and fingers off your smartphone–ever. Today’s always-connected lifestyle is creating new problems with more aches and pains in shoulders, necks and backs. Look around. See anyone else hunching over thumb-scrolling for many minutes at a time? The research is growing about the impact all the poor posture created by mobile device use is having on all of us.
The solution: Limit the time you spend on any hand-held electronic device to no more than 15 minutes without a break. Sit up straight and don’t hunch over when you’re texting. Keep your elbows at a 90 degree angle.Watch the screen time on your laptop or desktop computer, too. Take breaks at least every 45 minutes for at least 2 minutes per break.
2. Use the same pillow that was on your bed when you were 12. Believe it or not, many people NEVER change their pillow. They LIKE their pillow. But your pillow is literally designed with a 4 to 5 year lifespan. After that, it loses it’s support, collects a dizzying array of tiny creatures, and contributes to bad posture while sleeping.
The solution: Get a new pillow. Swap pillows often, especially if you sleep sometimes on your side, sometimes on your back. Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. A new pillow is also shown to help reduce insomnia.
3. Wear high-heel or flip-flops all the time. High heels put an immense amount of pressure on your lower back as you calf-muscles do double-time to keep your center of gravity balanced. But it’s not only the Manholo’s that are causing the problems. Flip-flops or sandals provide almost no arch support. That means they’re doing nothing to help the alignment in your lower back, knees and feet. Oh, and change your running shoes periodically, too. Did you know they have “mileage ratings” that dictate when to replace them?
The solution: Try swapping shoes during the day. Wear the heels for meetings and slip into a comfy sneaker or other casual shoe in between. Save the sandals for the beach, or at least swap out sandals and sneakers during the day.
4. Get depressed. Depression has a major impact on your physical health as well as your emotional health. A University of Alberta study revealed that people with major depression were four times as likely to develop low-back and neck pain.
The solution: Get moving. Walk around more. Try yoga. Get a massage. All these can have dramatic impacts on your mood and lessen the symptoms associated with depression.
5. Stuff your backpack or wear your messenger bag on your right shoulder. Backpacks can weigh a lot, up to 40 pounds in some cases. That weight shifts your center of gravity and causes your back to do double-time keeping things in balance. It also pulls your shoulders backward and down. Not good. And that trendy messenger bag or purse? HAVOC on your shoulders and lower back.
The solution: Don’t “single strap” on one shoulder, instead wear it messenger style (cross the chest) or limit the weight to mo more than 10% of your body weight.
6. Smoke a bunch. Nicotine restricts blood flow to your vertebra and spinal column and may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use Calcium, all of which can lead to bone and back problems.
The solution: Stop that! And don’t think vaping is making it better. There is mounting research that it’s just as bad, overall, as smoking a regular cigarette.
7. Stay off your feet for three days. Staying sedentary for more than a day can have a huge impact on blood flow and will increase the chances of lower back stiffness and a loss of mobility.
The solution: If you’re in couch mode, make it a point to get up and move around at least once every 90 minutes. A short walk will go a long way to get blood flowing back to muscles and will even elevate your mood in the process.
If, for some reason, you follow the tips above and jack up your back muscles, there are remedies. Seek out a therapeutic, Swedish or sports massage from a qualified therapist. It will stretch your muscles, stimulate blood circulation, and zip happy hormones to your brain.