Is your back a little achy? Maybe it often is, and you’re not really sure why? Well, back pain is an extremely common complaint voiced by many people today. And knowing the cause of your back pain is pretty important – having a serious issue there should be treated as soon as possible, and may not go away on its own. Likewise, a less serious issue may very well be treatable, and without knowing all the info you could be suffering needlessly! Having an idea of the common causes of back pain can be a big relief. These are some of the most common:
1. Lack of due diligence. Do you go from nought-to-ninety on the weekends? Many of us do, working like crazy in front of a computer all week, only to pick up a rake and do lawn work like mad on the weekends. Or perhaps you join a weekend basketball league, and you figure you can just go out and play a little – no big deal. Well, tell that to your back! Living most of your life behind a desk is going to wreak havoc on your spine, so you need to prepare yourself for potential physical activity. And the only way to do this prep-work is proper exercise: hamstring stretches, leg lifts, planks and other core work can go a long way.
2. Forgetting you’re not invincible. Oftentimes, you can wreck your back by lifting something poorly. Make sure you have the right technique for lifting by doing the following:
- bend at your hips, not your low back
- keep your chest out
- lead with your hips, not your shoulders when walking
- keep the weight close to your body
- never lift something greater than 20% of your own weight
- never carry something higher than your armpit or lower than your knees
3. Falling asleep at the sleeping wheel. Your sleeping position can have a tremendous impact on your back health. Sleeping on your stomach puts unnatural stress on the joints and muscles in your back, but sleeping on your side or back helps alleviate the pressure. If you simply can’t sleep any other way but on your tummy, try sleeping with a thin pillow under your hips – this will help reduce the pressure on your most sensitive area: your lower back. In addition, make sure that you have a good quality mattress – something too soft or too hard can be very bothersome for your spine.
4. Lighting up. Yep, smoking does more than cause cancer and make your kisses taste like licking an ashtray: now studies show it can also contribute to back pain. While the exact reasons are unclear, scientists can confirm a link between smoking and pain, i.e. if you smoke you’re more likely to be living with some kind of pain in your body. Other studies point to smoking’s restriction of blood flow: this could potentially cause vertebral discs to break down more quickly. Regardless of why smoking causes back pain, having yet another reason to quit is, well, a good reason.
5. Sweating the small stuff. Do you have a stressful life? Well, the emotional wreckage of your brain, i.e. stress or depression, can cause a depletion of endorphins (happy chemicals) like serotonin, and an increase of stress hormones like cortisol. This culminates in your muscles having to work harder at detoxifying, which tightens them up and causes you pain. Yet another reason to exercise: clean out your muscles and your brain at the same time with something like yoga, which can help strengthen your core and reduce your stress/depression levels simultaneously.
You can’t necessarily change your whole life to relieve yourself of that nagging back pain, but there are a few key things to add into or take away from your current way of living that could really make a difference. Add in a total of two extra hours a week divided up (that’s less than 20 minutes per day) for exercise, sleep in a better position, and quit smoking. While you’re at it, get some better shoes too – poor foot fashion can also make your back scream for relief.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner