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What's really causing your back pain? Eight everyday habits that could be to blame

What's really causing your back pain? Eight everyday habits that could be to blame

This article was written by Caroline Jones for the Mirror on the 5th September, 2013, and discuused  a survey carried out by the British Chiropractic Association:

It’s no wonder back problems are the ­biggest cause of time off work in the UK, and the second most common reason for going to the GP

A shocking survey ­carried out by the ­British ­Chiropractic Association has found two in three of us have suffered serious neck or back pain by the time we hit 35.

Add in people over 35 and the figures reach eight in 10.

It’s no wonder back problems are the ­biggest cause of time off work in the UK, and the second most common reason for going to the GP.

But the latest ­research also shows surprisingly few cases of back pain are the result of a serious accident or ­injury – the vast majority are caused simply by the cumulative effects of lifestyle that we tend to ignore.

For example, the Prime Minister David Cameron’s recurrent back pain is likely to have been ­triggered, at least in part, by all those hours at a desk or travelling in cars – and stress when he’s not chillaxing on holiday.

“Simple daily habits, such as hunching to read your smart phone, slouching in front of your computer – even having a weekend lie-in – can, over time, strain your spine and the surrounding muscles, leaving you vulnerable to serious back injury,” agrees BCA chiropractor Tim Hutchful.

“People will come to me in pain and say, ‘I just bent down to pick something up and my back went’, but actually it’s their ­behaviour in the months or years before which has led to the weakness – the one-off event is just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.”

So to stop back pain now – and prevent future agony – try targeting the following unexpected culprits…

1 Sitting still

Forget heavy lifting – sitting hunched over a computer all day is one of the worst things you can do for your back.

“Research has found that people who do desk jobs suffer more back pain than those working in manual jobs where lots of lifting is involved,” says Tim Hutchful.

“Using your joints and spine strengthens them, reducing risk of injury. But ­inactivity weakens them, which makes you more prone to problems.”

? Fix it: Get up and walk around for two minutes, at least once an hour, and improve your posture while you’re sitting down. Avoid bending forward and aim for a “neutral spine position”, in which everything is in line, with no strain spots.

Your shoulders should be relaxed, feet flat on the floor, and eyes in line with the middle of your screen. Click on to: for more advice.

2 High heels and ballet pumps

Yes, tottering in high heels for long periods can make your back sore, but too much time in the wrong flats can do just as much damage.

“Heels cause problems because they force your foot forward, altering the angle of your body so your weight isn’t evenly distributed over the spine, which can trigger pain from your knees all the way up to your back,” explains sports physiotherapist Chris Hirons from N10 Injury & Sports Therapy Clinic.

“But popular styles of shoe – such as ballet pumps and flip-flops – aren’t a great deal better as they allow your foot to slide around.

“Again, the lack of stability that this causes puts pressure on your spine,” accordingly to Hirons.

? Fix it: “Ensure your shoe holds your foot firmly in place to keep you stable and protect your back,” says Hirons.

“And alternate between high heels, mids and flats. By wearing different shoes every day, you lessen your chance of experiencing long-term problems caused by using only one type of shoe.”

3 Sneezing

This seemingly innocuous, activity is apparently a very common cause of back pain – thanks to its sheer force.

A sneeze’s speed of release can be up to 100 miles per hour, and because it’s not considered polite to sneeze over someone, our first instinct is to quickly cover our faces and turn away.

But according to Janet Wakley, author or The Smart Guide to Back Care (Hammersmith Health Books, £14.99), this instinctive turn is one of the worst things we can do for our backs.

“Spontaneously twisting to the side, combined with the force used by the chest muscles to sneeze, can wrench the back muscles in just a second,” she warns.

? Fix it: “If possible, turn your whole body when you ‘re about to sneeze, so that your back remains straight,” recommends Wakley.

4 Your favourite bra

The latest figures suggest around 80% of us wear a bra that doesn’t fit, which can cause several muscular problems.

A bra that offers no support can lead to hunching and sore neck and back muscles, while one that gives proper support can help to minimise that ­forward hunch and ­relieve pain.

? Fix it: Get measured and fitted by a trained bra fitter – stores such as Debenhams and M&S both offer this service for free.

Go for styles with wider shoulder straps or a racer-style back, which offer better support and ­encourage you to pull your shoulders back.

5 Your pot belly
“Even an extra couple of pounds around your middle makes your pelvis tilt forward and puts it out of alignment as your body works to rebalance itself,” explains Chris Hirons.

“This means that your spine isn’t getting enough support from your ­abdominal muscles, which can cause excessive strain on your lower back.”

? Fix it: “Don’t do sit-ups – they won’t flatten your tummy if there’s fat on top,” ­advises Hirons.

“Fat-burning cardiovascular ­exercises, such as running or swimming, for 45 minutes, three times a week, are more effective at shifting the bulge.”

6 Stress
Just like the rest of you, your back muscles will tense up when you start to feel you are under pressure.

Muscles are designed to contract and relax but when you’re stressed, they may contract so much that they can eventually start to spasm, which in turn will trigger pain.

Stress also causes your levels of the hormone cortisol to soar, which increases ­inflammation in the body, making the problem worse.

? Fix it: Forget laying in bed as the latest research shows that gentle exercise, such as ­walking or yoga, is much more effective at relieving back pain.

It also has the added benefit of being ­proven to reduce stress levels.

7 Your smart phone

“The head-down position that you use to look at phones, iPads and laptops strains the muscles in the neck and the pain can extend all the way down your spine to your lower back,” explains chiropractor Tim Hutchful.

“This is especially bad for you if you are using them for hours on end because your body will eventually start to adopt this hunched position.”

? Fix it: Make sure you take frequent screen breaks.

Try to look straight ahead rather than down at your screen.

You might look for a stand to help you hold your laptop or tablet at a more back-friendly height and angle, such as the Trust ComfortLine ­Portable Ergonomic ­Laptop Stand (£16.90 from Amazon).

8 Your lie-in at the weekend
“Many people find a sore back is the downside of those extra hours spent snoozing in bed on a Sunday morning,” says Tim Hutchful.

“This is because your body is resting in the same position for too long, which can trigger or exacerbate existing aches and strains in both your joints and muscles”

? Fix it: “To stop this stiffness ­developing, I often advise patients to switch their Sunday morning lie-in for an afternoon siesta at the weekends instead,” says Hutchful.


I have been a regular patient at the clinic for 5 years now, and the chiropractors have treated me during my last 2 pregnancies (I have 4 children).  When I had my eldest child, I had quite bad low back ache during the last trimester. However, I really believe that my Chiropractic care has made a large contribution to the fact that I have had comfortable, pain-free pregnancies the last two times. The clinic is really child-friendly and the staff are all very helpful. I would recommend the Hampstead Chiropractic Clinic to any expectant mother!

Jane Carter

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