Every time you see a commercial on TV advertising over-the-counter pain relief medication, the person suffering from back pain always seems to be retired. While it's true that older folks tend to experience chronic back pain more often than their younger counterparts, it doesn't mean it's abnormal for someone in their twenties or thirties to experience backaches. Brian Hammond, chairman of BackCare, a health advocacy group in the United Kingdom, says more young folks are experiencing lower back pain than ever before, and it's an epidemic likely attributed to the overwhelming use of electronic devices, which we'll get into more below.
Of course, using your phone too much isn't the only cause for back pain. There are all sorts of factors that could be causing your back pain, some more obvious than others. Whatever the case may be, don't wait to address it. Your spine is your lifeline, and if it's not in good shape the rest of your body will suffer. Bad posture eventually results in joint injury and it even increases your risk for cardiovascular and pulmonary disease rises. When it comes to your back, there's a lot more at risk than how tall you look.
Here are nine reasons why your back is always hurting — and what you can do to remedy it.
1. Your Posture Is All Wrong When You're Standing & Sitting
We all know this one, yet the majority of us still don't get it right. When you stand, your heels, hips, and shoulders should all be in one line, and your chin should be parallel to the floor.
Have someone take a picture from you from the side to see if you're letting your butt stick out. There's a time and place for being bootylicious, but that time is not when you're standing around normally. Slightly engage your glute muscles to keep your pelvis in a neutral position.
As for your sitting posture, your legs should be at 90 degrees and your hips shouldn't sit lower than your knees. Your feet should also be flat and sit right under your knees. If your tootsies can't fully reach the floor (I'm 5'1, I feel your pain) rest them on a step of some sorts. Use the back of a chair to support your lumbar spine, but make sure you're not slouching backward.
Keep an eye on both of these as often as you can, and over time it will help relieve the pain. The more you practice, the more natural it will feel. Soon it will become second nature.
2. You're Sitting In The Wrong Chair
If you've never really taken a look at what kind of office chair you have, now's a good time to take a break and have a look. See if there's enough lumbar support and if your feet comfortably touch the ground when you sit with your back relaxed. Check out the back to see if it contributes to or works against your natural hip alignment. The best chairs out there are concerned with these features and many more; some even boast better blood flow to your heart and oxygen to your brain.
You don't have to empty out your savings to invest in a high-quality ergonomic seat, but you may have to switch out that old office chair for something better. If it were anything else in your life, would you use it for several hours a day if it were complete garbage? Definitely not. Replace it.
3. You Sit For Too Long At One Time
I won't get into the entire standing desk lecture, because that's a whole other article. That said, you're probably sitting for too long during the day. And all that time you spend on your butt can't be undone with any kind of exercise — not even many hours of yoga. To help avoid the back pain that comes with sitting too much, though, all you have to do is stand for 10 minutes every hour and move around for a few as well.
Find a buddy at your office who's willing to try this out with you. You can remind each other to leave the chair every so often. I started using a standing desk a while ago, and it has served me well, so don't be so quick to rule that out for yourself. There are less mornings these days that I wake up with aches in my lumbar spine.
4. You're Using Your Electronic Devices Too Much
You heard me. Too. Much. Phone. Brian Hammond says the way we hunch over our devices — affectionately referred to as "iPosture" — is resulting in bad posture and lower back pain. Young people spend just shy of nine hours a day on electronics, so it's not surprising that 84 percent of young adults in the UK have backaches that are believed to come from crouching over their phones.
I don't even want to know exactly how many hours I spend every day in the technology stratosphere, and I'm sure you don't either. That's OK, though, as long as we make it a point to put the damn phone down and chill for a while. From the research that's being done, it looks like our backs could use the break.
5. Your Bed & Pillow Aren't Giving You Enough Support
If you're used to waking up in the morning with a backache but it can usually be stretched out within half an hour, that's a surefire sign that you and your mattress need to break up. Finding the right mattress may feel like a tedious assignment, but it's worth the time and effort, because if it's too hard or too soft it will push on your pressure points incorrectly, resulting in chronic pain. A study at Oklahoma University showed that people who change out their mattress after five years dealt with less back pain than those who procrastinated on switching theirs out.
Keep an eye on your pillow as well. Clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., told WebMD, "Pillows can not only impact the quality of our sleep, but also how healthfully we rest and recharge." It may not cause pain the same way a mattress does, but it can make preexisting back and neck pains way worse.
6. You Have An Injury Or Condition You Don't Know About
There are a lot of different things that can fall under this category. If you're harboring chronic pain, you could have a bulging or herniated disc that needs attention. Other options include: a pinched nerve, which would cause shooting pain down to your butt and legs; muscle strain, or an inflamed joint. Even more serious conditions are fibromyalgia or scoliosis.
Before you look up all your symptoms online and self-diagnose yourself with something dramatic, see a doctor or specialist and bring them a list of all your symptoms. They will ask you questions, run tests, and use their expertise to tell you what's really going on.
7. You Don't Have A Strong Enough Core
We're programmed to think that a strong core equals washboard abs — let's face it, that's hardly ever the case. More importantly, that's not what matters. There is a long laundry list of reasons why you should list a strong core among your goals, none of which have to do with how you look.
If you have weak muscles in your midsection, your body tries to find strength from somewhere else in order to lift, move, and turn on the daily. The first place it looks for help is your lower back. This causes all kinds of discomfort and it can eventually lead to injury. Luckily, there are lots of ways to build up your core strength and protect your lower back.
8. You Have Super-Tight Hamstrings
Tight hamstrings can arise from sitting for too long, not stretching enough after you workout, or overworking your legs. Whatever the case may be, when the backs of your thighs are stiff, it puts unnecessary on your lower back muscles, and as we just learned, overusing your lumbar spine will end up causing you chronic pain.
Incorporate some yoga stretches into your morning or night routine to be sure your hamstrings stay supple. Any lower body postures will offer relief in the legs, butt, and lower back all at once, keeping you as far away from back pain as possible.
9. You're Wearing The Wrong Shoes
Flats aren't as good for you as you might think. If you don't have enough support for the arch in your foot, your back won't get the support it needs to move safely. The age of your shoes needs to be evaluated as well. Old, worn-out pairs could be the culprit of your lower back pain. Finally, if you're the kind of person who rocks high heels every single chance they can get, reconsider the frequency with which you wear 'em. They could be throwing off your alignment and making life miserable for your spine.
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