Back pain and related symptoms send more Americans to the doctor’s office than any other condition except for the common cold. As the fifth most cited reason for hospitalization and the third most common cause of surgery, disability from low back pain disrupts people’s everyday lives, affecting everything from mood and thinking to sleep and sex life.
And yet, despite its ability to utterly incapacitate an otherwise healthy individual, back pain is almost never a single catastrophic event. Rather, it’s the accumulation of several, seemingly insignificant, daily habits that can take a big toll on a person’s back over time. Here are some of the habits that may be hurting your spine and causing the dreaded low back pain:
- You spend too much time in your car.
Driving, whether it’s for commuting to work or picking up the kids and running errands, is a common aggravator of low back pain and can even be the initial cause of pain. Spending long periods at the wheel can seriously impact your health, particularly if the seat doesn’t allow optimum posture, as is the case with most modern cars that have a lower roofline and less internal space. The natural curvature of the spine is nearly lost, putting extra strain on the vertebrae and discs, while the spine itself is subjected to constant vibration and jolting. Holding the head and arms in an extended position as required by driving also stiffens the neck and results in shoulder pain.
- You sit at a desk all day long.
Exchanging the uncomfortable driver’s seat for the anatomically-incorrect desk chair for 8-10 hours every day will not only turn your mild backache into an unrelenting agony, but also put you at risk for serious health problems and even death. “Chair disease,” as many back experts are starting to call it, is an increasingly common malady in the U.S. and one of the major causes of low back pain. Research has shown that prolonged sitting causes discomfort, numbness, and spine misalignment. Holding the body in a seated position (which is not a natural position for the human body) for hours on end prevents weight distribution and strains the back muscles to hold your back in shape. Over time, this increases tension in all major muscles and joints and leads to a distortion in the natural curve of the spine, causing chronic pain.
- You are a regular smoker.
Among the numerous harmful effects of cigarette smoking on the body, premature degeneration of the back has started to gain more attention recently. Nicotine slows down blood circulation and restricts the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles, joints, and spinal discs. Deprived of oxygen, the discs are less able to repair themselves and tend to sustain damage at an earlier age than is seen in nonsmokers. Researchers also believe that smoking “could affect the manner in which the brain processes sensory stimuli and the central perception of pain,” meaning that cigarettes mess with the way in which the brain sends its pain signals.
- You carry a lot of weight on your shoulders.
We’re not talking about the stresses and pressure in your daily life, although that too can sometimes be at the root of your back pain. Carrying your old laptop computer in your backpack or jamming all your cosmetics in your handbag because “you never know what you’ll need” is doing your back a big disservice. Such a heavy load carried against muscles, tendons, and ligaments can result in headaches, low back pain, and several other body aches. Pushing it even further can lead to more serious nerve trauma and even degenerative joint disease.
- You often skip the gym.
Chronic pain often prevents people from exercising and staying fit, but lack of exercise can make matters worse by stiffening, weakening, and de-conditioning the muscles and joints in the body. Research has shown that almost half of back pain sufferers stop exercising after back pain strikes – a strategy that actually delays healing or even aggravates their condition. Exercising on a regular basis – whether it’s stretching, strengthening, or aerobic conditioning – leads to significant and sustained pain relief for those who are recovering from sciatica or acute back pain episodes.
None of us likes the idea of seeing the doctor, especially if the pain is not acute. However, persistent pain that doesn’t subside in a few weeks or pain that keeps coming back is enough reason to pay your local chiropractor a visit. In most of the cases, there is an easy, minimally invasive treatment that can put you back on the track to a pain-free life and help you avoid serious disability.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.