9 lifestyle factors causing back pain
In today’s modern society, we lead more sedentary lives than ever before. Our lifestyle choices directly impact on our health. Some lifestyle factors can actually lead to back pain both indirectly and directly. Importantly, many of these lifestyle factors leading to back pain are in fact avoidable. The socioeconomic burden of back pain in Australia, partly due to lifestyle factors, is substantial. Up to 80% of people are affected by at least one episode of back pain their life. Indeed, back pain is the single largest cause of years lived with disability in many developed countries. In Australia, this puts a substantial economic strain on the government—AUD$9.17 billion in 2001—to be exact. In this Balmain Chiropractic Centre blog, Martin, our resident chiropractor, will discuss common factors leading to back pain episodes.
Factors causing back pain can be divided into intrinsic (e.g., genetic predisposition and old age) or extrinsic (e.g., smoking and poor posture). For the most part, it is often not possible to change intrinsic factors; but extrinsic factors include lifestyle choices that can be changed. The following are a list of common factors causing back pain:
1. Occupational activities
Occupations that require prolonged sitting with repetitive tasks (e.g., office and computer workers and drivers) or those that require repetitive bending and lifting (e.g., construction workers and nurses), and it doesn’t even have to be heavy objects, all have a higher incidence of back injury.
Back pain in pregnancy is very common. Being pregnant puts significant additional load through the lumbar spine, which can injury spinal joints, muscles, facet capsules and discs. Pregnancy also shifts your centre of gravity forward which forces you to keep extend through the back to keep upright, which quickly fatigues back muscles. Moreover, circulating hormones like relaxin relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens and widens the cervix in preparation for childbirth, which puts additional stress and strain on back muscles to compensate for the increase in joint mobility.
3. Sedentary lifestyle factors
As a nation, we are on average far more sedentary than 50 years ago. Much of this has to due with cultural adaptation and a shift to a service-orientated economy. A lack of regular exercise increases the risks of back pain. This can be due to several reasons, but the most common is thought to be due to the deconditioning of muscles and lack of mobility in joints, which leads us more predisposed to injury.
Inactivity also increases the severity of the pain. One potential mechanism for this is fear-avoidance behaviour (i.e., avoiding exercise due to an inappropriate pain response). People with pain whom catastrophise their symptoms (i.e., view their pain to have a negative consequence) are more likely to avoid exercise they believe will increase their pain. In the long-term, this avoidant behaviour leads to inactivity and therefore physically deconditions the body and paradoxically increases back pain. People who have high levels of pain catastrophisation also tend to self-report higher pain levels.
4. Poor physical fitness and health
This is somewhat related to sedentary lifestyles. People who are physically unfit and have pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to report back pain. Indeed, several studies have demonstrated that physical exercise decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing heart tissue function. It also protects against breast and colorectal cancers by having less body fat. This improves immunity function, gut transit time and less circulating oestrogen. However, take these findings with a grain of salt, because correlations do not equate to causation and several other factors cofound study results.
5. Older age.
As we age, wear and tear on the spine results in conditions (e.g., disc degeneration, spinal stenosis) that cause back pain. People over 35 years old are at a higher risk for back pain when compared to younger people. Moreover, people aged between 35-60 years old are more likely to have spinal disc-related disorders, while people over 60 years old are more likely to have pain-related to osteoarthritis. These intrinsic factors are a fact of life and in most instances are irreversible, but often do not cause back pain. In fact, if we scanned all of the population over the age of 35, more than half would have some level of degeneration on imaging, but the overwhelming majority of people have no symptoms, and so the degeneration may not be clinically significant.
6. Obesity and overweight
Being overweight increases stress and strain on the back and is a risk factor for certain types of back pain symptoms, like disc injury due to the increased load and lack of mobility and conditioning.
Smoking increases the likelihood of someone developing back pain by 3-10 times compared to non-smokers! Nicotine thickens the walls of blood vessels, which restricts blood flow and increases the time it takes for tissue to heal and recover from back injuries. Smoking is a classic case of a lifestyle factor that directly and negatively impacts on health in general.
Many people who suffer from chronic stress do not manage it properly, have poor sleep patterns, poor diet and exercise less. This is a common issue that can be reduced by simple changes in lifestyle factors, like relaxation therapy, meditation, exercise and cognitive therapy.
9. Genetic factors
There is some evidence that certain types of spinal disorders have a genetic component. For instance, degenerative disc disease seems to have an inherited component. Moreover, twin studies examining spinal degeneration against occupational status and job stressors have shown that degeneration was almost identical between siblings despite all other cofounding factors like work, stress and exercise. We still do not fully understand the mechanisms between genetic predisposition and back pain, but science is exponentially discovering more and more each decade.
At Balmain Chiropractic Centre, our chiropractors are highly skilled and trained to identify factors leading to a wide range of musculoskeletal conditions and provide evidence-based, individualised treatment plans for patients. We identify lifestyle factors that may lead to back pain and provide strategies to minimise their effects. Visit us at our Inner West clinic today.
Please visit our website and blog pages for more information on what causes back pain: