Back pain plagues approximately four out of five people, with women being disproportionately represented. While the exact cause of an episode of back pain can’t always be determined, numerous contributing factors and medical conditions have been identified.
Factors and Activities
The average person spends nine hours each day hunched or slouched over screens. Solutions include taking breaks, doing neck exercises, and holding gadgets out in front rather than looking down on them.
Sitting places more pressure on vertebral disks than standing or walking. When sitting is combined with poor posture, the effects are even more problematic. Ergonomic adjustments can help. These include lumbar support cushions, setting up computer monitors at eye level, placing both feet on the floor, and holding arms and legs at a 90-degree angle. Taking breaks from sitting at the computer has a positive impact as well.
- Core Strength
A weak core contributes to back pain. It’s important to strengthen the entire core, including back, side, pelvic, and buttock muscles. Exercises such as crunches that only focus on the abdominals are less effective than more well-rounded exercises such as lunges, squats, and planks.
In addition to other health concerns, smoking leads to a high incidence of back problems. Because nicotine restricts blood flow to spinal vertebrae and disks, they break down and age at a faster rate. Nicotine might also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, thereby contributing to osteoporosis.
Chronic back pain and depression create a vicious cycle, each feeding into the other. People with back pain are more likely to be depressed, while those diagnosed with major depression are four times more likely than undepressed individuals to have debilitating back and neck pain. This correlation might be due to the stress hormone cortisol, which causes back and shoulder muscles to tense and spasm. Antidepressants, exercise, yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can help.
Most women realize that stilettos and high heels aren’t good for back health, but sandals and flip flops can also be problematic. Since these shoes frequently lack arch support, continuous use can lead to back, knee, and foot problems. If giving up on style isn’t an option, alternating types of shoes from day to day mitigates the risk.
- Large Purses
Heavy purses are especially problematic when their weight is unevenly distributed side to side. Carrying bags messenger style, diagonally across the torso, is helpful. Minimizing weight also makes a huge difference. According to the American Chiropractic Association, a bag shouldn’t add more than ten percent of an individual’s body weight.
- Sedentary Lifestyle
Inactivity for longer than a couple of days can prolong or worsen pain. Low impact activities like walking and swimming relieve pain and stiffness by increasing blood flow. Yoga might be the best option, due to its dual focus on stretching and strengthening. According to a study by the Archives of Internal Medicine, three months of weekly yoga classes led to 60 percent of participants claiming less discomfort, and 40 percent reporting reductions in the amount of pain medication they needed to take.
- Compression Fractures
Compression fractures occur when weakened vertebrae break as a direct result of osteoporosis. Movements small or large can lead to fractures, which usually affect the front of vertebrae in the lower part of the upper back. More often than not, fractures create severe pain. Because osteoporosis affects women more than men, women are two times as likely to experience compression fractures.
Spondylolisthesis is a degenerative condition in which one lumbar vertebra moves forward over the one beneath it. This movement can irritate the spinal nerve root, causing low back and leg pain. Due to hormonal factors, pelvic structure, and bone density, women are three times more likely than men to experience spondylolisthesis. Women over 50 are particularly prone to the condition.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes the breakdown of cartilage in the facet joints connecting vertebrae. Without this protective cushioning, vertebrae rub together and bone spurs develop. Pain appears gradually, and is often worst in the morning. After the age of 40, osteoarthritis is more common in women than men.
- Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
The sacroiliac joint (SI) acts as a shock absorber between the upper body and the pelvis. SI issues can lead to low back and leg pain. The cause of SI dysfunction isn’t completely clear, but it likely originates from changes in movement patterns. Young and middle-aged women are primarily affected. Pregnancy is a well-known contributor to SI pain. The weight of the baby’s head can stress the pelvis, and pregnancy triggers the release of chemicals that relax ligaments. While SI pain begins during pregnancy, it can continue long after.
Muscle and ligament strains are among the most common causes of back pain, affecting both sexes and all ages. They can be caused by strenuous lifting, pregnancy, and sports. One-third of back aches resulting from strains improve on their own in a week, with no intervention required.
- Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, most often occurring in the neck and lower back. It can create pain, tingling, and weakness. Related to the wear and tear damage of osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis is common among those aged 50 and above.
- Herniated Disk
A herniated disk occurs when the jellylike interior of a disk is pushed out through a tear in the tougher exterior. Disk herniation usually follows disk degeneration, which is gradual, age-related wear and tear. Most herniated disks occur in the lower back, though they can also affect the spine. Symptoms include pain, tingling, and weakness.
While back pain is an unfortunate part of life for many, there are general rules that can contribute to lasting back health. When lifting heavy items, bend from the knees and engage the core. Maintain good posture, especially while working at a desk. Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet low in cholesterol and sodium. And of course, exercise – running, walking, biking, and yoga are all excellent options.