Clearing's Chronic Pain Blog
11 Surprising Things That Are Making Your Back Pain Worse
Jump To Section
The importance of a strong, supportive spine pops up everywhere in conversation. For example: “take a stand,” “thanks for being flexible,” or “don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” That’s why back pain can be so debilitating and frustrating. It leaves us feeling not only vulnerable and weak, but also confused about how to find relief.
Back pain diagnosis is sometimes straightforward, but if you don’t have a pulled muscle or pinched nerve, the answer may lie in your everyday life. Whether it feels like a shooting pain that radiates into your legs or a dull ache, you might be tempted to lie in bed until the pain goes away. You may feel too distracted to pay attention to your posture, even while adjusting to working from home. You may text your friends to vent about the pain!
But addressing your discomfort means pinpointing back pain causes, which are not always obvious. In fact, some things that we think can make it better can actually make it worse.
Skipping the stretching
Now that fitness and recreation centers are re-opening, we may want to jump back into the active lifestyle that we had pre-pandemic. And with life resuming its hectic pace as COVID restrictions lift, you may have only limited time to hit the gym, squeeze in that tennis match or bang out that power-walk you promised your friend. It may be tempting to shave off your warm-up for efficiency and get right down to business.
However, neglecting to stretch could place your back at risk and exacerbate the pain you’ve tried to ignore. Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, strong and ready to support the range of motion that exercise requires. When you skip the stretching and suddenly recruit your muscles into action, you restrict mobility — this increases the risk of a pulled muscle, muscle spasm or pinched nerve.
Build in time to stretch before your workout, holding each stretch for 30 to 45 seconds to fully prime your body to move. Focus on stretches that relieve lower back pain, and consider adding yoga into your workout mix. By increasing spine flexibility, promoting circulation and fighting stress, the practice of yoga may help relieve lower back pain.
Tackling too many chores
Whether you’re cooking a stir fry, washing dishes, ironing blouses or vacuuming the living room, all that time you don’t have on your hands is likely time spent on your feet. Not to mention time bending over the sink, the ironing board and the toys you need to pick up.
Of course, there’s no avoiding house work, but there are ways to avoid lower back pain. Try placing your feet on a small step stool, or investing in a padded floor mat for under the sink. If you need to bend down to pick something up, try to keep your neck and shoulders upright, bending your knees instead of your waist. Also consider breaking up chores like ironing or vacuuming into smaller chunks throughout the week, rather than all in one day.
You may be the first to offer to help your friend or relative move, or to take in the daily drop of Amazon deliveries. But repeatedly hoisting heavy loads may lead to pulled muscles or even a herniated disc in your back.
These conditions can create pinched nerves, including sciatica, a common cause of radiating back pain. To protect your back while staying helpful, bend at the knees, not at the hips or waist. Also try to use appropriate equipment to take the load off your back. And remember that hiring movers is an investment in your health!
Sign up for our newsletter
Learn more about our approach to whole-body pain relief.
Having a sedentary lifestyle
Bingeing on shows from the couch or bed may sound like the perfect way to pass the time when your back is aching, but it may be counterproductive. Even catching up on work or scrolling through social media for hours can approach the sedentary lifestyle that worsens back pain.
Make sure to take breaks for light movement by stretching, changing position or taking a brief walk every 30 minutes (or Netflix episode). If you work from home, consider investing in a standing desk.
Sitting in the wrong kind of chair
With the sudden shift to remote work last year, you may have gotten used to taking Zoom calls, answering emails and building presentations from a dining room chair or barstool. But repurposing these seats as office chairs can take a toll on your posture, placing stress on your back muscles and causing overfall fatigue. Who would think that sitting all day could be so tiring?
As we further transition to remote work, ergonomics (the term for supporting our bodies while working) is more important than ever. Your home office may be here to stay, at least for part of the week. Invest in a chair that supports your lumbar spine, or lower back, adjusts in height so your feet touch the floor and has other settings that support your body.
Texting too much
Slumping or bending over your phone screen, laptop or tablet can lead to the strained and sore neck muscles known as “tech neck,” which can disturb alignment in your back and place pressure on the joints and discs in your spine. The right kind of chair will help, but also make sure to lean back regularly to relieve the muscles in your neck and back.
Neglecting your core
It’s important to maintain a healthy weight to avoid burdening your spine. But, the most critical area to build muscle is your core. This is for a couple of reasons. First, if too much of your body weight comes from abdominal fat, it can shift your center of gravity forward, which puts more pressure on your back.
Second, your abdominal muscles support your posture and promote alignment of your spine. Maintaining a healthy weight, by making healthier food choices and doing workouts that condition the core, can relieve back pain.
Succumbing to stress
Tension in your mood can lead to tension in your muscles. The mind-body link is strong when it comes to chronic back pain. When pain outstays its welcome, brain activity that processes pain can switch to processing emotion, trying to interpret feelings that seem to arise from nowhere.
Conditions like anxiety and stress can worsen back pain, and both your back pain and mood can become more difficult to regulate. That’s why managing stress can help address back pain. Techniques like acupuncture or meditation may help your brain wiring reset, by stimulating the right chemicals (also called neurotransmitters) and quieting the brain chatter that fuels discomfort.
Wearing high heels
You may have traded in stilettos and sandals for socks and slippers during the months of lockdown. But now that your calendar is filling again, you may be dusting off your formal shoes. With these fancier shoes, it’s important to remember that wearing them may shift your weight to the ball of your foot, which throws off alignment.
To spread your weight more evenly across your feet, look for a platform style or a wider heel. Stretching your hamstrings before and after wearing heels will also help protect your lower back.
If you rely on lighting up as a distraction from your back pain, it’s the perfect time to kick the habit. There’s a reason smokers report more frequent episodes of back pain than non-smokers.
Nicotine restricts the flow of blood to the back vertebrae and discs, which over time can accelerate tissue degeneration and cause all sorts of pain-inducing conditions, including arthritis, or bone loss.
Drinking too much alcohol
Savoring one drink every night can help relax your muscles, but think twice before you pour the second. Too much alcohol can lead to muscle spasms, dehydration and constipation — all common causes of back pain.
Two glasses or more per day may also interfere with any pain medications you may be taking, even mild ones like aspirin or ibuprofen. Finally, similar to smoking, excessive drinking may cause faster bone loss, heightening the risk of osteoporosis that contributes to back pain.
Clearing can help bring you relief
Back pain treatments include rest, ergonomic office equipment, a back brace and NSAIDs that fight inflammation. Making these simple lifestyle changes can be the first step to relief. And remember, you don’t have to navigate your back pain alone.
At Clearing, we’ve built a comprehensive platform to help you find the relief you need. Depending on your situation, this could include a personalized exercise program, custom compounded pain cream, CBD cream, nutraceuticals, health coaching and access to leading pain specialists.
There are many ways you can work on muscular strength, even if you’re in a wheelchair or need to be sedentary a lot. Spinal twists, seated rows and weight holds are just a few of the exercises you could practice. When you sleep, use supportive pillows between your legs (when you sleep on your side) to maintain alignment and stay comfortable.
You’ll want to do a little research, perhaps online or with a coach, to pinpoint the best exercises for your back. There are many, many exercises that target the back and abs – if you do even just a few of these every day, you’ll be caring better for your back and helping your body overall.
General stretches, Epsom salt baths, mental imagery, stress reduction, hamstring stretches, yoga and getting great sleep are just a few of the things you can do at home to work on relieving your back pain.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your individual needs and medical conditions.