What's Causing Your Back Pain?

Everyday Activities That Can Cause Back Pain

December 31, 2021

By Justin Field, MD

While back pain often originates from a back injury or spinal complication, many daily activities may also increase the risk of experiencing back pain or discomfort. For example, you may have woken up from a night of sleep where your back felt sore, or you may notice an aching back after a day of sitting at your computer.

While these activities are not intense, they can still cause pressure and strain on the back, resulting in ongoing or long-term back pain. These everyday activities may be what leads to your lower back pain or worsens existing discomfort.

Everyday Activities that Cause Back Pain

Activities That Cause Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common conditions affecting adults. Studies have found approximately 16 million adults deal with long-term or chronic back pain, limiting a person’s mobility and daily activities.

While many people may think back pain only occurs with old age or an accident, many everyday activities may lead to or worsen back pain. Some of the most common activities that could cause lower back pain include:

1. Working a Desk Job

While work may seem like a calm activity if you have a desk job, it can also be a likely cause of back pain. Many jobs, especially traditional office jobs, require working at a desk for extended periods. This causes many people to sit for most of the day, putting additional pressure on the spine. While maintaining proper posture can help minimize the strain on your spine, it can be difficult to ensure adequate posture throughout a workday.

Research has found American adults sit for approximately six and a half hours a day on average. While each person’s day is unique, many office workers spend two to four hours sitting without a break during their shift. Many patients will experience back pain from sitting in a chair for too long in the same position, especially if they are not aware of their posture. Sitting can significantly increase pressure on the intervertebral discs.

It is generally recommended to stand or walk once an hour and ensure you are practicing healthy posture. Walking and standing each hour can alleviate pressure on your spine. Additionally, you can practice healthy posture by sitting up straight at a 90- to 100-degree angle perpendicular to your legs with your shoulders back. Some office workers also experience back pain relief by using a standing desk, allowing them to work while sitting or standing throughout the day.

2. Lifting Heavy Objects

While sedentary jobs are common reasons for lower back pain, jobs that involve regularly lifting heavy objects may also increase a person’s risk of experiencing back pain. Occupations involving manual labor and lifting heavy objects pose the risk of spinal strain and injury. If you lift heavy items, especially with improper form, you are more likely to experience back pain or discomfort.

In addition to back pain, improper lifting techniques can lead to leg, elbow, neck and knee pain. You should never try to pick up heavy items from a standing position or lift only with your back. Always lift items with the proper form and use your legs and knees to support the item’s weight. While jobs that involve lifting heavy objects are a common concern, many people may experience back pain from lifting a heavy package at home or using improper form when weightlifting.

When you lift a heavy item with improper form or carry an object that’s too heavy, you can strain your back’s muscles and ligaments. You also run the risk of a more serious back injury, including herniated or slipped spinal discs. 

3. Shopping

While many people may not think of shopping as a cause of backaches, it involves a lot of twisting, lifting and bending. Unfortunately, poor shopping and lifting habits can also cause back pain. If you shop regularly, you can place a lot of wear and tear on your spine, especially if you routinely carry around heavy shopping bags or groceries.

It is not likely you will injure your back lifting several shopping bags on one trip while shopping. Instead, repeated actions and habitual poor posture and lifting techniques while shopping can lead to long-term backaches. Twisting, bending and lifting puts a large amount of pressure on your spine. This pressure occurs from these actions regardless of whether you lift an item.

Some people may even experience back pain from bending to view items on a low shelf. Poor shopping and lifting habits can lead to substantial spinal issues over the years, including various disc problems and even arthritis.

4. Cleaning

Among other causes, cleaning can also facilitate back pain. While cleaning is a necessary task in our everyday lives, it can place significant strain on the back. Cleaning, especially deep cleaning, requires stooping, lifting, bending and scrubbing, which can all cause or exacerbate backaches and pain. After cleaning, many people may feel sore or tired, which is a physical sign of the effects this action has on your body.

For example, bending and scrubbing tubs and floors require your spine to stay in a position that creates a large amount of strain on the back. In some cases, a person may experience a strained or pulled muscle from cleaning, which they may not realize. As they continue to clean or go about their daily activities, they can worsen a strained muscle, causing additional injury and back pain.

Because cleaning requires such poor posture, you can significantly strain your lower back and are much more likely to overstretch or irritate the back’s muscles, ligaments and joints. Poor posture can also cause the vertebrae to restrict, resulting in initial pain that often extends long after a person finishes cleaning.

5. Gardening

While gardening is a relaxing activity and a great way to enjoy the outdoors, it can take a toll on the back. Because gardening requires digging, weeding, bending and pulling, it is a common cause of back pain. One way to minimize back strain while gardening is to stretch your back beforehand. Another important thing to keep in mind is the length of time you spend gardening.

If you plan to spend a long time in your garden, you should schedule regular breaks to stretch your back, stand and walk, which can help reduce back strain. If possible, you may also want to spread your gardening work throughout the day or week to protect your back from extended stress and strain. 

There are two main causes of back strain. The first type occurs when you put more pressure on your spine than it can handle, which often causes immediate and intense back pain. The second cause is when you strain your back by lifting something you are unprepared to handle. If your muscles are weak or unprepared for bending, straining and other gardening actions, you may notice dull pain and aches across your back that are less intense than an immediate pull or strain but often last longer.

6. Eating a Poor Diet

A proper diet is essential to a healthy lifestyle and offers your body the various nutrients and vitamins it needs. For example, a lack of vitamin D and calcium can lead to weaker, more brittle bones with an increased risk of injury. Additionally, a poor diet can also facilitate weight gain, placing more strain on the body’s joints and bones. Many poor diets also contain inflammatory foods, which can increase inflammation and pain.

Eating a proper diet can ensure your body gets the nutrients and vitamins it needs. If a person is overweight, a healthy diet can also lead to weight loss, lessening pressure and strain on the joints, bones, muscles and ligaments. Anti-inflammatory diets can also relieve painful inflammation that can irritate or worsen joint pain.

A healthy diet includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and chicken and can reduce inflammation throughout the body, which often causes lower backaches and chronic back pain. Even minor weight loss of five to 10 pounds can relieve much strain on the back.

7. Smoking

Smoking and tobacco use are linked with many medical conditions and health concerns, including chronic pain. Research has found current smokers face a larger prevalence and risk of back pain than former smokers and those who have never smoked. Nicotine causes your body to release various chemicals, including dopamine, accounting for the initial feeling of satisfaction when smoking and often contributing to addiction.

Tobacco also negatively impacts the body’s ability to deliver oxygen-rich blood to tissues and bones. This decreased flow of essential nutrients and blood can result in degeneration of the spinal discs, which already experience less blood flow. Smokers may notice worsened back pain and be at a higher risk of developing various medical conditions that cause back pain, including lumbar disc disease or osteoporosis.

Additionally, medical professionals have also found smoking to cause a lower healing rate, further increasing a person’s risk of developing a health concern. When paired with other risk factors for back pain, including regularly lifting or sitting for extended periods, smoking can lead to or exacerbate existing back pain.

8. Living an Inactive Lifestyle

A fit, active lifestyle and healthy diet are two vital aspects of leading a healthy life. Regularly exercising, walking and stretching help strengthen the back muscles, decompress the joints and alleviate tension. Unfortunately, if you’re experiencing back pain, you may be more inclined to lie down or rest when you are not at work or performing daily tasks. While rest is important for everyone, too much rest or elongated periods of inactivity may worsen back pain.

Failing to exercise regularly can induce back pain or aggravate these uncomfortable symptoms. The back muscles need routine exercise to remain strong, healthy and engaged. Regular exercise can also improve the overall blood flow and circulation to your back, which can be an essential aspect of improving existing discomfort or pain. Long periods of inactivity weaken and degrade the back muscles, causing more severe and longer-lasting episodes of back pain.

Before starting a new exercise program, check with your physician to see if it is right for your abilities. While exercise is an essential aspect of maintaining good health, improper posture or exercise techniques may lead to an accident or exacerbate back pain.

9. Exercising Improperly

While exercise is a fundamental aspect of good health and a strong, healthy back, it can also raise the risk of injury, especially if you have improper form or are not educated on the various exercises you’re performing. Additionally, working out too hard or too long can also cause too much strain on the back muscles and ligaments. In some cases, these ligaments, muscles and discs may stretch too far or even tear, resulting in injury and intense pain.

Spinal overextension is a leading cause of back pain that can injure the muscles and ligaments and even result in uncomfortable muscle spasms. Improper exercising can raise the risk of numerous health conditions, including slipped or ruptured spinal discs. Many people may be at a higher risk for these injuries as they begin exercising.

While exercising is a great step toward becoming healthier, some people may not know how to safely or accurately perform exercises, increasing the risk of accident or injury. People new to exercising may overwhelm their bodies with too much activity too fast, and the spinal muscles will not yet be strong enough to handle this strain. If you are looking to start exercising, you may want to consult your physician or a personal trainer to ensure you are doing so with proper form.

10. Sleeping

Sleep is a necessary and restorative part of the night that allows the body to heal and rejuvenate itself. While sleep is meant to be a time for rest and healing, some factors may increase the risk of back strain or pain. Your mattress and pillows play a large role in your sleep quality each night. If your mattress is unsupportive or causes strain on sensitive parts of the body, you will likely wake up sore and feel pain and discomfort each day.

Another important aspect to consider is your sleeping posture and position, as poor sleeping posture can also place excess strain on the back and lead to discomfort. Research estimates up to 80% of the United States population will experience back pain at some point during their lives. Because back pain is so prevalent, it is essential to understand the everyday causes and risk factors contributing to back discomfort.

Physicians recommend sleeping in a more neutral position that does not place pressure or strain on one part of the body, such as lying on your back. When sleeping on your back, your neck, head and spine are properly aligned and your weight is distributed evenly. You can also put a cushion underneath your knees or a small pillow under the natural curve of your lower back to add more stability and lessen strain.

11. Being Stressed

While stress is a normal emotion we may feel occasionally, chronic stress can negatively impact our health in various ways. When you feel anxious or stressed, your body responds by releasing multiple chemicals to protect you from danger. Stress causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol and can trigger involuntary muscle spasms and muscle tightening.

Continual spinal tension can lead to back discomfort and pain. Stress is a normal reaction to feeling unwell or uncertain about your health for those with limited movement or existing back pain. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety can worsen this pain. Pain has also been known to directly influence your brain and how it perceives pain in the future.

While pain initially impacts the pain-sensitive circuits, chronic or long-lasting pain triggers the circuits that process feelings and emotions. This change in circuits is why anxiety and stress often intertwine with back pain.hen to See a Doctor for Back Pain

There are two types of back pain — acute and chronic back pain. Acute back pain typically occurs quickly and may cause a sharp, intense sensation. It usually resolves within two to three months. On the other hand, chronic back pain usually lasts longer than six months.

Fortunately, most back pain improves within a few days or weeks without official treatment. If your back pain is mild or only lasts a few days, you may not need to see a physician. However, you may want to see a physician if you experience severe, intense or debilitating pain. If you notice intense pain after an accident or injury, seek medical attention immediately.

If you experience intense or constant back pain, especially when lying down, you should call your doctor. Other potential warning signs to see your doctor are if the pain radiates down your lower back or lower legs. Weakness, numbness and tingling in the legs, especially below the knee, are also indicators to seek medical attention.

Visit One of DISC's Locations for Back Pain Help

Visit a Premier Orthopedic Spine Center for Back Pain Help

The Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) is a leading provider of orthopedic and spinal care in ArizonaOur medical professionals are experts at performing various spinal treatments and surgeries, including micro-discectomyselective endoscopic discectomy and fusion and fusion alternatives

Our team can diagnose and treat different spinal conditions, such as spondylosisspondylolisthesisforaminal stenosispinched nervesfailed back surgery syndrome and more. To get started with our innovative treatments and surgeries, request an appointment online or call (602) 944-2900.

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