What’s Causing Your Back Pain? It Might Not Be What You Think

Everyone has a sore back at some point. A day of hard work in the yard, sleeping in an uncomfortable bed in a hotel on vacation, a few tense days in the office … all of these can cause some tightness and soreness in your back, which usually goes away relatively quickly after some rest, stretching, and maybe a relaxing massage.

When you have chronic back pain though, a day at the spa isn’t going to cut it when it comes to feeling better. And unfortunately, many patients find that getting answers about the cause of their pain is just as elusive as finding relief from it. All too often, back pain is misdiagnosed. Patients may be told that their pain is due to something like an old mattress, when it’s really something more serious — or vice versa.

Any effective pain management plan begins with uncovering the root cause of your pain. By understanding what can cause back pain, you can take steps to alleviate the issue. Sometimes, eliminating some of the seemingly minor causes of pain can make the pain go away. In other cases, simply knowing what isn’t causing the pain can help your pain management specialist pinpoint the real cause, and create a customized treatment plan that really works.
What is causing my back pain? This image shows a man struggling with extreme pain in his lower back.

It’s All in the Little Things

For many people, extreme back pain is a result of everyday activities or habits that can be easily changed.  Some of the more common causes of pain include:

  • Footwear. Are you a devotee of flip-flops? Sure, they are easy to slip on in the summer months, but the design of the “shoes” requires the wearer to alter his or her gait, causing knee, hip, and back pain. If you must wear sandals, chose a more supportive pair that doesn’t require you to “grip” with your toes — or save the flip-flops for the pool.
  • Purse/Wallet. You might joke that you carry your life in your purse, but the strain that toting all that stuff is putting on your back and shoulders is no laughing matter. The same goes for your wallet: If you keep your overstuffed wallet in your back pocket, you are throwing your spine out of alignment when sitting, causing pain in your back and neck, and potentially causing sciatica. Keep your wallet elsewhere, and if you have an overstuffed purse, consider streamlining it. Choose a smaller bag rather than a tote to avoid the temptation of packing it full.
  • Clothing. It might sound crazy, but your clothing can contribute to back pain. Wearing the wrong bra, for example, can cause tension in your back — as can neckties or halter tops. Get properly fitted for the right size bra, and choose the most supportive style (racer backs can help relieve tension.) If you have to wear a tie or other clothing that ties around your neck, keep it loose enough that it doesn’t pull on your neck and cause tension.
  • Furniture. We all know that sleeping on an old, lumpy mattress isn’t good for your back, and you should replace your sleeping spot every 10 years or so. However, other furniture could be contributing to your pain. Your office chair, for example, is likely designed to keep you positioned at a 90-degree angle, which can put excess pressure on your lower back, and reduce blood flow to your spine, causing pain. Other chairs and your couch can also contribute to pain. If your living room furniture causes you to slouch or crane your neck in an unnatural position to see the television, it can cause stretching and tension that leads to pain.
  • Extra Weight. Carrying even a few extra pounds around the midsection can misalign your pelvis, causing pain in your lower pack. Losing even a little bit of weight can help alleviate the pain — and help with a slew of other issues.

Other Causes of Pain

Not all back pain is caused by minor issues like these, but if you have pain, making these adjustments can help reduce and manage your pain. Keep in mind that many causes of back pain mimic each other; for example, many people are diagnosed with sciatica when they actually have a herniated or bulging disc in the lower back. Spinal nerve compression (often called a pinched nerve) shares many similarities with degenerative disc disease. If you have any of these conditions, factors like those mentioned above can exacerbate the pain. That’s why it is so important to see a doctor when you have chronic back pain to rule out serious issues and get on track to eliminating the pain. In very rare cases, back pain can even be caused by illness or disease (such as endometriosis, kidney issues, or cancer) so getting checked out can provide peace of mind as well as relief.

There is no reason to live with chronic back pain — especially when you can easily eliminate many of the most common causes. Evaluate your lifestyle and habits to find changes you can make to live pain free. If you’re located in southeastern Michigan and your chronic pain doesn’t subside or suddenly becomes severe back pain, contact The Heilman Center for Pain and Spine Care. Our Pain Specialists will find the root cause of your chronic back pain and develop a customized treatment plan to help you.