You get up in the morning and you are so stiff that bending down to put on your socks is already a struggle; or you find it hard to sit comfortably for a longer period of time as your back is killing you; or you don’t like long walks as the pain in your back takes all the joy out of it; or you don’t know whether to lie, sit or stand as whatever you do, your back aches after a while.
Sounds familiar? I’m not surprised. According to the NINDS, 80% of adults are affected by pack pain at some point in their lives. But why? What back aching causes are there?
Suffering from back pain can be quite worrying, however, in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about and usually gets better after a while. This is because the most common reason of an aching back is not a medical condition, such as sciatica, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis or osteoarthritis.
In most cases, the pain is rather triggered by a strained or pulled muscle or ligament and occurs when, either, fibers in a muscle are overused or overstretched or when ligaments – the fibrous connective tissue which connects bones or cartilages together – is overstretched. So how does this happen? How does a muscle or ligament get strained or pulled?
Here are the 4 most common causes.
1) Poor posture
Very often, an incorrect posture is to blame for back pain, whether it’s your sitting position or your posture while walking or standing. Although you may not experience any discomfort for some time, prolonged periods of sitting, standing or walking in a poor posture exerts stress on your spine as it constricts your blood vessels and nerves and puts strain on your back muscles and ligaments. The result is back pain.
For this reason, it’s highly important that you know how to spot poor posture and how to correct it. So first of all, think about how you sit. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, you need to make sure
- You are sitting upright with your back against the back rest and don’t slouch.
- Your chair is correctly adjusted to the right height and tilt so your wrists and forearms are level with the floor when using a keyboard whilst your feet are parallel and flat on the floor.
- You use an ergonomically designed chair that supports all of your back.
- You use a support cushion for your back if more comfortable.
- You take regular breaks to stretch your body.
- Exercise regularly to strengthen your back
Equally important as the sitting position is your posture when standing or walking. Putting all your weight on one leg while standing or walking with your shoulders hunched is just as bad for your back as slouching when sitting. To avoid back pain developing as a result of an incorrect standing or walking posture, ensure
- You stand straight and tall with your shoulders back and your arms falling naturally at your sides.
- Your weight is evenly distributed when standing.
- You know where your center is, so you can maintain the correct posture. See What’s the Correct Posture – How Do You Achieve This for more information.
- You keep your back straight, shoulders back and head up when walking.
- You wear comfortable and supportive shoes when standing or walking for a prolonged time. High heels are not suitable as they may contribute to misalignment of your body.
2) Lifting heavy objects
Another common cause of back ache is lifting heavy objects. Whilst this activity doesn’t necessarily have to result in strained or pulled muscles or ligaments, there is always a high risk of injuring your muscles, joints or discs, especially when the spine is twisted during lifting. To avoid these negative effects, make sure
- You use the right lifting techniques by keeping the back straight while bending your hips and knees going into a squatting position.
- You turn your whole body and don’t lead with your back when changing direction, so you don’t put more strain on your spine.
- You move slowly and lift carefully avoiding abrupt movements.
- You keep the heavy object as close as possible to your body during lifting, so the weight is centered and evenly distributed. This is also important when carrying heavy shopping bags. Try to distribute the weight evenly by holding a bag in each hand.
- You don’t lift heavy objects too high, i.e. above your shoulders.
3) Sports injuries
If you are pursuing a sport that involves twisting movements, such as Zumba, netball, football or gymnastics, or high impact moves, such as field sports, athletics or certain types of aerobics or dancing, you have surely experienced back pain due to pulling or straining muscles at some point. To prevent injury, make sure
- Your core muscles are strong enough to take the strain of the impact. To achieve that, perform regular back strengthening exercises.
- You are patient and increase your fitness level slowly and gradually. Forcing your body to do a hard workout before it is ready, is just asking for trouble.
- You exercise in moderation and regularly. If you concentrate all your physical activity on weekends and are inactive for the rest of the week, you are much more likely to suffer from back pain due to injury than if you do a bit every day.
- You warm up and stretch before starting your high-impact exercise and cool down and stretch again when finished. As a result, your muscles and ligaments will be more flexible and capable of dealing with stress and strain.
- You wear the correct equipment or sports gear when you are practicing your sport. For example, if running is your activity, invest in suitable running shoes and don’t just wear your everyday trainers.
4) Sudden movements
This is something that can happen in any scenario, whether you are doing gardening, playing with your children or grandchildren, doing housework or whether you are at work: You make a sudden twisting movement and instantly feel pain in your back. Sometimes, this is due to muscle spasm. However, most of the time, it’s the result of a strained or pulled muscle or ligament taking weeks to get better. To avoid this happening, ensure
- You exercise regularly. Any low-impact exercise, such as walking, cycling, resistance and stretching exercises, Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and swimming will strengthen the back and make it less prone to injury.
- You don’t spend too much time sitting without any breaks as this will weaken the back and may create an imbalance in the spine and muscles.
- You relax your mind as constant stress has a negative impact on your body. When you are feeling stressed, your muscles are more likely to contract and cause a spasm triggered by sudden movements.
- Your spine gets a good rest when you sleep. If your spine can’t relax and recover from the hard work it did during the day to support your body, it can’t rejuvenate and build up strength for the tasks of the next day. For that, it’s important to have the right mattress and pillow that provides the best support for your spine in your preferred sleeping position.
A strong core is the best protection against back ache and injury
Many causes of back ache are not due to a medical condition and can be avoided by following the advice given above. However, the most effective way to prevent pain from developing is to make sure you have a strong back and core.
To strengthen your back, you need to exercise your spine-supporting muscles regularly, so they can cope with the strain and stress exerted on them. However, it’s not enough to have strong muscles, they need to be flexible as well, so they are less likely to get damaged in a sudden twist or when performing a high-impact move.
An ideal way of achieving strong and flexible muscles, is doing regular Pilates back strengthening exercises. These low-impact workouts are suitable for any fitness level and can be customized to suit your individual needs. Also, they can be performed anywhere, whether in a studio, at work, at home or outside in nature.
So, don’t put up with back ache and don’t let it develop in the first place but look after your spine. There is a lot you can achieve yourself.