15 Reasons Why Your Back Hurts
Did the title of this article just give you the urge to stretch or massage your lower back? Maybe you’re shifting around in your chair, trying to make your position more comfortable. If you’re a yogi, you might currently be in child’s pose on the floor. (Once you’re done, please come back and continue reading!)
Back pain is incredibly common. In the US, 31 million people are sufferers, and worldwide, back pain is the number one cause of disability and one of the top reasons cited for missing work.
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But what actually causes back pain? Well, it turns out that there are many causes, so let’s dig in:
1. Too Much Time Spent On Your Tush
As computers have slowly crept in and taken over our lives, they have also changed the nature of work – and in the context of this article, how we perform our work. The reality for a large proportion of us is that we are seated during our 9-5’s, with little reprieve save heading to the loo or running out to grab a cup of coffee. Many of us aren’t even getting up from our desks for lunch!
The act of sitting puts a lot of force on our lower backs (in the “lumbar” section of our spines) and causes compression in this area. Scientists have found that over time, those who sit straight or lean slightly forward (i.e. 90˚ or less between the torso and the top of the thighs) are also at risk for degeneration of the discs in the lower back. A more open posture, where your chair supports, and allows you to lean slightly back, is preferred.
Having an ergonomist assess your workstation can be a huge help if that’s available to you at your workplace.
2. A Sedentary Existence
To piggyback (ha!) on the previous reason, too much sitting = not enough moving, which also equates to back pain.
When we aren’t moving, our muscles begin to stiffen, shorten and become weaker. When this happens to the muscles of our back, we are susceptible to injury. When muscles shorten in this area, the spine can become misaligned and pinch down on the discs or nerves, causing severe pain.
So, help yourself and your back by getting up every hour and moving for at least 3-5 minutes. Stretches, a set of stairs, or walking over to your colleague to chat rather than sending an email all help! Remember: motion is lotion.
3. Shortened Hamstrings
In addition to affecting the muscles in the back, extended periods of sitting also causes the muscles on the backs of our thighs, called the hamstrings, to shorten.
This muscle group is actually made up of 3 smaller muscles, which attach to your pelvis and on either side of your knee. Your hamstrings are responsible for flexion of the lower leg (i.e. they contract/shorten to bring your foot up towards your bum) and extension of the hip (i.e. pulling your thigh backwards).
When we sit for long periods of time (where the hamstrings are in a constant state of flexion) the muscles start to shrink, pulling the pelvis out of alignment and altering the natural curve of the lumbar spine. Ouch!