15 Bad Habits That Can Damage Your Neck And Back

There seems to be a list a mile long of bad habits that can damage your back . There are the well-known ones, such as sleeping on a crappy mattress, slouching at your desk all day, and hunching for hours over a book. But there also exists a slue of other habits that you probably haven't considered.

With these surprising spine-ruining hobbies — combined with all your usual hunching and slouching — it's really no wonder so many of us deal with back pain. In fact, as Dr. Charla Fischer, an Orthopedic Surgeon at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center tells me, back and neck pain is a very common problem for women.

If you're one of the many who struggles with aches and pains, it's important to actually do something about it. That's because, in typical fashion, "many women wait until their symptoms are severe before seeking help," she says. Don't do this to yourself.

Get started by first acknowledging your pain level on a scale of one to 10. "If it is four or less, you can take over the counter anti-inflammatories and do some simple stretches [as shown on my Facebook page]," she says. "If your pain level is a five or more, please see your doctor for some professional guidance." Talking to a professional can help, as can evaluating your daily habits to see where and what might be contributing to your pain. Read on for some of the biggest culprits.

1. Carrying Around All Your Earthly Possessions

If you tote around a huge Mary Poppins-esque bag, you're most definitely putting yourself at risk for neck and shoulder pain, Fischer tells me. While the temptation to "be prepared" is understandable, "it’s important to remember that everything that goes in the bag goes on the shoulder and neck," she says. So try not to weigh yourself down too much. Leave those heavy books at home, and make it a point to clean out extra junk at least once a week.

2. Wearing Your Bra Incorrectly

You're on the right track if you wear a bra to prevent back pain. But wearing it improperly can actually do more harm than good. "Most women wear bras where the band sits too high and is too snug, causing the back to arch and [have] poor posture," says Dr. Abby Kramer, DC, in an email to Bustle. "By simply correcting to a more supportive bra, women experience ... relief." So set out on a mission to find a better fitting bra, ASAP.

3. Sitting For Long Periods Of Time

Sitting for long periods of time — like, say, at your desk for eight hours — can cause all sorts of back problems. In fact, current research states "'sitting is the new smoking' in regards to the detrimental affects on the body," says Dr. Caleb Halulko, DC, in an email to Bustle. The more you move around throughout the day, the better — for your health and your back. So do a lap around the office every half hour. Or, try standing up at your desk. It really can make all the difference.

4. Holding Your Phone With Your Shoulder

When you're multitasking, it feels so natural to do the ol' phone-on-the-shoulder maneuver. And yet, this habit isn't so great for your neck, Fischer tells me. By bending your head sideways to prop up your phone, you're essentially pinching your the nerves in your neck, which can cause pain over time. A headset or headphones can help with this, if you really do need to be handsfree.

5. Napping On The Couch

Are you all about naps? If so, make sure you don't give into the siren song of the squishy, lumpy couch. "The awkward positioning will irritate muscles and joints by challenging them to hold a position they don't naturally like to be in," says Dr. Rubina Tahir, DC, in an email to Bustle. "It’s quite common to wake up with a kink in your neck — so kick the bad habit and stick to napping in bed."

6. Letting Your Anxiety Go Unchecked

If you're stressed 24/7, or struggle with anxiety on the regular, don't be surprised if you eventually get neck and back pain. "Elevated stress and anxiety are frequent causes of tension headaches, which can cause significant neck and head pain," psychiatrist Jared Heathman, MD, says in an email. "Tension headaches are a result of muscle contractions in the head and neck region. Worsening anxiety can cause more frequent and sustained contractions." So talk with a therapist, or do something relaxing, in order to get your anxiety levels under control. Your neck and back will thank you.

7. Slouching Forward While Cleaning

If you're like me and don't own a dishwasher, then you likely spend many an hour slumped over a sink full of dirty plates. While it's very noble of you to actually wash those dishes, do take note if your neck hurts afterward. If it does, standing up straighter, like a ballerina, can help. "This will force you to be in a good position and avoid back strain," Fischer says.

8. Reading Awkwardly In Bed

We all contort into some pretty odd positions in order to read in bed. I personally like the cheek-on-shoulder position, while I lie on my side. But there's also the too-many-pillows technique, and the neck-on-headboard move. These positions — while mildly comfortable for a moment — can really do a number on your spine, physical therapist Dr. Alice Holland tells me. From now on, make it a point to surround yourself with comfy pillows and better support for your neck.

9. Commuting In Your Car For Days

A long commute can cause some pretty bad back spasms — especially since most car seats are designed with a man's body in mind, Fischer tells me. If this is something you struggle with on the daily, "getting some seat cushions and back support can make the car seat more comfortable and customized for a woman’s smaller frame."

10. Looking Down To Text

If the majority of your day is spent staring into a screen, try positioning your devices up higher so you can look straight ahead instead. That's because looking down at your phone for prolonged periods of time (about 10 minutes or more) can really strain your neck, Holland tells me. Same goes for gazing into an e-reader, or craning your neck to see your laptop. Not good.

12. Sitting With Your Legs Crossed

If you sit with crossed legs, or with one foot wedged under your butt, you're likely throwing off your back's alignment. Both habits tilt the pelvis, Dr. Andrew Schafer tells me, which over-stretches one side of the spine and over-compresses the other. "When this happens, pain under one the shoulder blades will be the tell-tale sign," he adds. Catch yourself next time, and make it a point to keep both feet on the floor.

13. Always Sleeping On Your Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach, while comfy AF, means spending the whole night with your head awkwardly twisted to the side — and that's not good. "When the head is turned and the muscles are relaxed, asymmetrical strain is placed on the ligaments and muscles of the neck leading to imbalance," says chiropractor Dr. Alex Wolfe, in an email to Bustle. Sleeping on your back is best, with side sleeping coming in a close second.

14. Slouching If You Are Tall

If you're taller than most, try to catch yourself the next time you feel tempted to slouch. As chiropractor Dr. Mark El-Hayek tells me, tall girls tend to hunch over or bend down to be the same height as other girls — especially when it comes time to take a photo. If this is you, stop it now. Stand up tall, rock your height, and protect your back.

15. Smoking

As if smoking wasn't already bad enough, now you can add "damaging your back" to the list of reasons to quit. "People who smoke are much more likely to develop chronic back pain than those who don’t smoke," says Douglas Chang, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at UC San Diego Health, in an email to Bustle. "Study after study shows that back pain and arthritic changes are significantly linked to smoking, probably because of blood vessel damage in sensitive structures of the spine, such as the intervertebral disc." Definitely not worth it.

And neither are any of these other bad habits. If any of them sound familiar, you know what to do. Get them under control, make some changes, and that back of yours should start feeling way better.

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