Back pain is bothersome, irritating, energy depleting, and worthy of a whiny text to your best friend, mom, or anyone who will listen. But did you know this specific ache is also shockingly common in adults?
According to Dr. Charla Fischer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health's Spine Centre in New York City, back pain is the second most common complaint when going to a primary care doctor, just behind cold and flu symptoms.
So what's to blame for all this pain? While certain injuries or conditions commonly contribute to back pain, there are also a few everyday habits and lifestyle factors (some surprising, some not so much) that can cause discomfort.
Read on for a few possible culprits.
Sitting all day is bad for you in more ways than one, and we're not doubting that your chair is uncomfortable, but there might be more to the story.
"Poor sitting ergonomics can cause repetitive stress injury to the paraspinal muscles," Dr. Fischer explained. "Once those muscles are injured, they contract, go into spasm, and cause pain." Examples include bad posture and slouching, but also issues with equipment spacing (computer monitor, keyboard, mouse), the height of your chair, and more. The Mayo Clinic has mapped out a helpful guide to reducing workplace-related back and neck pain.
A Lack of Core Strength
Need another reason to add a set of planks to your next gym session? Dr. Fischer said that a lack of core strength can be a cause behind regular back pain, as it "leads to weak paraspinal muscles that are not strong enough to hold us up all day long."
Dr. Fischer recommended yoga, pilates, and barre for building core strength, but there are plenty of specific core exercises you can easily add to any gym circuit.
The side effects of stress are plentiful, from acne to night sweats to, yes, even back pain. Stress has been linked to musculoskeletal issues like lower back pain, as well as pain in the shoulders, neck, and head.
Dr. Fischer said it's not quite fully understood why stress contributes to back pain, but it could have something to do with the body being continuously tense.
You might think that a backpack is the answer to eliminating accessory-induced back pain, but Dr. Fischer noted that any bag, whether it's a cross-body, shoulder bag, or backpack, is going to be an issue if it is particularly heavy. "I recommend limiting the weight of the bag to three to five pounds," Dr. Fischer said.
"Smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict, and the intervertebral discs already have a poor blood supply," Dr. Fischer explained. "Thus, the intervertebral discs see accelerated wear."
It's been said that those who smoke are three times more likely to experience lower back pain.