Does an aching back feel like a regular problem, and not just something you randomly pulled at the gym? If so, you are not alone. 6 million older adults in the U.S. live with chronic back pain.
According to Gbolahan Okubadejo, M.D., an orthpedic spine surgeon, we start to lose fluid in our discs as we age. When this happens, the discs tend to collapse. Along with this, our lifestyle habits raise the risk of back pain. Here are 5 surprising culprits:
Lots of sitting can take a toll on your health, including producing pain in your back. When you sit for extended periods of time, your joints aren’t being used. Immobility in that nerve-dense location can jump-start what’s known as the pain-spasm-pain cycle, in which a skeletal muscle spasm causes pain in your spine. It doesn’t just involve your spine. It can extend to your hips and sacroiliac joints. Studies show that sitting for as little as four hours can result in disc degeneration. You can counter the risk by increasing the amount of physical activity you do. It is recommended that after two hours of sitting you get up for five minutes of stretching.
Smoking limits blood flow, causing discs to age prematurely. In fact, the number one reason that people who have had spinal fusion surgery don’t heal is because of smoking, says Dr. Okubadejo. Smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain.
That cushy mattress that makes it seem like you’re floating on a giant marshmallow may feel good when you slip into bed each night, but it is not doing your back any favors. When you sleep on an old or plush mattress, the body tends to sink down, so there is less support for the spine. To prevent back pain, use a mattress that’s at least medium firm.
Anyone who wears high heels knows that they can do a number on your back. But even sensible shoes can change your gait and lead to back pain if the soles are uneven, which happens when you wear them too long. Think about your shoes the way you think about your mattress. Not only is it important to have support while lying down, but you equally need support while being upright. Look for shoes with soles that provide medium firmness.
(There’s that word again.) Stress wreaks all kinds of havoc on the body. No surprise, it can also put the squeeze on the muscles around your spine. “People usually carry stress in the neck and shoulder area,” says Dr. Akhil Chhatre, M.D. But stress can also cause pain to travel farther down the back, thanks to the inflammatory response it sets off. To fend off this kind of pain, moving is particularly important, If you’re stressed, you may not be as active. If you are less active, you have pain, and if you have pain, you are stressed out. As far as which exercise is best, Dr. Okubadejo says that it’s all about the endorphins, whether you opt for a long walk, a short run, or strength training. Stretching can also make a difference.