6 Causes of Back Pain You Might Not Expect

If you’re like 80 percent of other Americans, you know that life can be a real pain in the back. Back pain is one of the most common reasons for medical visits and missed work, and it is currently a leading cause of disability worldwide.

Back pain often occurs as a result of injury, overuse or mechanical issues, but not all causes of back pain are easy to identify. If you struggle with back pain that is chronic or recurrent, you may want to consider some of these surprising culprits:

  • Smoking – Smoking damages nearly every organ in the body, and some studies have linked it to chronic back pain. A study at Northwestern University found that smokers are three times more likely to experience chronic back pain than people who do not smoke. "We found that [smoking] affects the way the brain responds to back pain and seems to make individuals less resilient to an episode of pain,” researchers said.
  • Diet – Sugary snacks could be the reason for your back pain flare-ups. According to Vijay Vad, M.D., an assistant attending physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, sugars can spike inflammation and trigger back pain. Poor diet also leads to weight gain, which increases pressure on the back and may contribute to pain. Individuals who are overweight are four times more likely to develop back pain.
  • Cell phone use – Do you look down at your phone while texting or use your shoulder to hold your phone against your ear during conversations? This can place repeated strain in your neck that extends to the back. If your work requires you to use your phone and computer at the same time, consider purchasing a hands-free device to avoid neck strain. When texting, try holding your phone in front of you instead of placing it in your lap.
  • Stress – Stress can manifest itself through numerous physical symptoms, including back pain. If you notice that your stress symptoms and back pain tend to coincide, look into stress management techniques that can help relieve muscle tension. Yoga, meditation and stretching are excellent therapies to help clear your mind and relax the muscles.
  • Sedentary behavior – Lounging on the couch might seem like the perfect ending to a stressful day, but this habit could be the culprit behind your back pain. Sitting places pressure on the back discs, decreases blood supply and increases the risk of injury. Whether you’re sitting at a desk for work or on the couch watching television, try to take walking or standing breaks at least once every 30 minutes (Source: Huffington Post).
  • Footwear – The shoes you wear can change your posture, which in turn can affect back pain. Backless shoes or high heels create lack of stability and cause your body weight to be unevenly distributed over the spine. Opt for shoes that hold your feet firmly in place, and keep heels under three inches (Source: Health).