About 16 million Americans suffer from consistent or chronic back pain ― and as we age, the chronic aches tend to worsen. That is because we lose fluid in our spinal discs, which makes us stiffer and more prone to injury. Back pain is the number one cause of disability worldwide and up to 80% of people experience back pain at some point in their lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association.
According to CNBC, research shows that a dramatic decrease in activity results in increased musculoskeletal pain. Many Americans began working from home during COVID-19 which reduced their normal routine of commuting to the office, taking that lunch hour walk, or going to the gym.
The psychological stress of the pandemic can also trigger back pain, said Dr. Eric Robertson, an expert on low back pain and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association.
“Things like depression and anxiety, and fear about work can all translate to very strong predictors of who has back pain,” he said. Robertson added that many people working from home have less than ideal ergonomic work centers and may be sitting slouched over their laptops or on an uncomfortable kitchen.
While some causes of back pain may be obvious, such as lifting a heavy object incorrectly or overdoing gardening, others are more subtle:
- Prolonged sitting. According to AARP, if you sit too long, your joints become stiff. And sitting is exacerbated by improper posture at your workstation, as Dr. Robertson suggested. One study published in the journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation also found that sitting for four hours caused degeneration of spinal discs. To counter this effect, if you have a sedentary job, get up and walk every hour and do core stretching and strengthening exercises for 30 minutes, six times weekly.
- The wrong shoes. Wearing high heels is an obvious cause of lower back pain, but experts say that even “sensible shoes” may not support your feet properly. The trick is to find shoes that work with YOUR body, just as a prescription that works for one person may not benefit another. Pauline Fu, a doctor of podiatric medicine and an assistant professor of orthopedics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, recommends wearing shoes with a slight heel to support your back. Always buy shoes that are comfortable, and not too tight or too loose, says Everyday Health.
- Your mattress. Just like Goldilocks’s porridge, the best mattress is not too soft, not too firm but just right. In a small study published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, researchers found that the best choice for your back is to spring for a new mattress, and choose one that is medium firm. Study participants were asked to sleep on their old mattresses for 28 days while journaling their level of back pain. Then they were asked to sleep on a new, medium-firm mattress. The participated reported that their lower back pain was significantly decreased after sleeping on the new mattress.
- Stress. Research has shown that stress is damaging to the whole body, and the lower back is no exception. According to AARP, stress often shows up in the neck and shoulders but its inflammatory effect travel down the spine causing pain in the lower back. The best remedy is to release the stress by exercising, says Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at The Institute for Comprehensive Spine Care in New York City. “If you’re stressed, you may not be as active. If you are less active, you may have pain, and if you have pain, you are stressed out.” This vicious circle can be broken by exercising to release the feel-good hormones called endorphins, says Okubadejo. Good choices are walking, a short run, strength training or even stretching.
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