8 Ways You’re Destroying Your Back and Causing Major Pain

Dedicated gym rats have the clear health advantage over their lazier brethren, except when it comes to back pain. Sticking to a regular workout routine and eating nutritious foods simply can’t eliminate your chances of feeling these uncomfortable aches. But any back pain is particularly troublesome — relief is needed!

Eliminating just one of these mistakes could be your key to finally feeling some relief.

1. Sitting for too long

man slumped over his desk at work could be causing back pain

Don’t slump over your desk like this. | iStock.com

Desk jobs have been getting a lot of flack for their contribution to poorer health, and you can add back problems to the list of consequences.

The sitting issue doesn’t end with your job, either. The same problem arises when you drive. Your best defenses to prolonged sitting are incorporating more movement into your days and focusing on correct posture when you are seated. It might take some practice, but you’ll be rewarded with a lot less pain. Check out these great posture pointers from Cleveland Clinic to get started.

2. Bad form in the weight room

male athlete in the gym preparing for a deadlift

Using bad form can cause back pain. | iStock.com

Sorry gym-goers, but the lifts you do during your workouts could be the very reason why your back is always aching. Sadly, some exercises that are supposed to alleviate back pain can make it worse when performed incorrectly. One of the main culprits is the deadlift. Done correctly, this move can help strengthen the muscles around the base of your spine, but many guys unwittingly round their backs when they lean down to grasp the bar.

According to StrongLifts, maintaining a neutral position as you lift the bar is the safest way to go. This means you also want to avoid an exaggerated arch, which can lead to injury. And don’t forget about form when you bring the bar back to the ground.

3. Carrying uneven loads

young man walking outside with a backpack over one shoulder

Don’t walk with a backpack over one shoulder. | iStock.com

Most people carry a bag or backpack slung over one shoulder. Men’s Health explained such asymmetrical loads pull to one side, which forces the muscles on the opposite side of your body to work extra hard to resist rotational forces.

Incorporating exercises that train your body to handle unbalanced weights can help to a certain extent. According to Breaking Muscle, Russian twists, medicine ball throws, and plank variations can help in this arena. Still, you’re going to be better off going for a pack designed to evenly distribute weight over both shoulders.

4. Gaining weight

weight gain can cause back pain

Gaining weight around your midsection can cause back pain. | iStock.com

It’s no coincidence back pain often occurs after putting on a few pounds. When most people gain weight, a lot of it occurs around their midsection. Everyday Health explained, this causes your center of gravity to shift forward, increasing the strain on your back muscles. Consider this extra motivation to keep your diet in check.

Even if you’re putting on weight due to muscle gain, you could be at risk of straining your back. Part of this has to do with the specific exercises, since so many of them can lead to injury. You also have to watch out for muscle imbalances. Men’s Fitness highlighted a handful of common ones, some of which lead to back problems.

5. Sleeping on your stomach

young man smiles as he lounges on his stomach in bed

Sleeping on your stomach can cause back pain. | iStock.com

You probably don’t do a whole lot of pondering your position when you switch off the lights to fall asleep, but this is actually a big mistake. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you’d be wise to start getting comfortable in a different way. Medical Daily explained lying on your stomach leads to overarching your back and disrupts proper breathing and circulation. It’s particularly troublesome for people who have a lot of soreness or stiffness in their neck.

Just about any other sleeping position is a better choice, but you do want to avoid anything that twists your body too much. According to mindbodygreen, lying on your side with your legs together is the best way to go.

6. Skipping your stretches

man sitting in the grass to stretch

Don’t forget to stretch. | iStock.com

Strengthening your muscles can help significantly with back pain, but this is still only half the story. If you aren’t working to improve and maintain flexibility, the strongest back muscles in the world don’t stand a chance. Harvard Health Publications explained tight muscles restrict mobility, so you’re a lot more likely to suffer some sort of strain. That being said, you should never force a stretch. Pushing beyond what your body is comfortable doing will just cause an injury.

Knowing whether flexibility is causing back troubles can be a little difficult for some to figure out. Fortunately, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics shared an easy test to see. Sit in a chair and cross one leg over the other, then bend forward at your trunk. Pain indicates flexibility is likely contributing to the issue.

7. Smoking

wood deck with an ashtray filled with cigarette butts

Smoking is bad for your back. | iStock.com

You already know smoking is bad for your health, but you might not realize how bad it is for your back. One study followed 1,337 patients over the course of 53 years, finding those who exhibited risk factors associated with plaque buildup in the arteries, including smoking, were much more likely to develop chronic low back pain. A more recent study has linked the two once again, this time by a different mechanism. The study, published in Human Brain Mapping, found smokers were more likely to develop back pain largely because of the way smoking affects the brain.

If you are a smoker, all is not lost. Research published in 2012 reported those who were able to quit the habit reported significantly less pain than participants who continued to smoke. The exact interplay between puffing cigarettes and back pain might be hazy, but it’s hard to deny the link.

8. Wearing crappy shoes

brown flip-flop sandals on a wooden background

Make sure your footwear is helping you. | iStock.com

Picking out the day’s clothes can be enough of an effort, so shoes are typically an afterthought. If you’ve been slipping on the same kicks for years, it’s time to rethink your footwear. According to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, shoes that lack adequate support can easily contribute to back problems. For some people, special inserts may even be required.

Instead of buying your shoes solely based on price or color scheme, take your time to find the best ones for your body. You would never buy a suit without going through a thorough fitting, so you should approach shoe purchases in the same way. Some sports stores have people who specialize in shoe fittings, so they can be a great resource if you don’t know where to start.

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec