If you suffer from a sore back and neck, you're probably aware of the most well-known causes, from sitting at a desk all day to injuries from over-exerting yourself at the gym. But have you ever thought about the following factors?
Here are seven things that could be causing your back pain…
Are you taller than average? If so, it might be contributing to your back pain. Firstly, taller people slouch more, leading to lower back pain. They also tend to have longer necks, and need to bend their heads forward frequently (for example, when talking to shorter people!) both of which mean more strain on the neck muscles. 'When straining to look down for long periods, try and tuck the chin in slightly as this offloads the sensitive joints in the neck' says Alex Hunter, Clinical Director at Six Physio.
YOUR MOBILE PHONE
The sedentary lifestyle technology promotes is a well-known cause of ill health, but did you know the specific actions involved in viewing our gadgets is also doing our backs harm? 'Text neck' – the soreness caused by constantly looking down at a phone or tablet with one arm raised, is a growing problem. Spending less time on your phone is the obvious answer, but if you can't manage that, then trying not to slouch your head too far forwards when texting away. And when you're making calls, go hands-free!
Everyone has a slightly different walking style – just spend five minutes watching commuters rush by you and you'll see that! 'Different gait types can cause various kinds of lower back pain' says Alex. 'A common issue is letting the knees hyperextend when walking. This then forces us to arch our back forwards, resulting in compressed joints and a sore back. By keeping slightly soft knees when striding forward we can avoid this.' A good physiotherapist should be able to analyse your gait for problems.
Do you carry your bag on one shoulder? Then you could be in trouble! 'Using a handbag on one side causes one shoulder to drop forwards over time' says Alex. 'This shoulder then drags on the upper back and neck and causes discomfort. Swapping the handbag regularly from shoulder to shoulder, or ideally using a backpack, are simple solutions.' Can't stand the thought of ditching your tote? Try exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, as this will stop it dropping forwards to such an extent.
An ill-fitting bra doesn't just look dodgy, it could also be causing you pain. 'Similar to handbags, badly fitting bras pull both shoulders forward causing more drag on the upper back and forcing the head forward, thereby stressing out the neck' says Alex. Even more reason to pop down to your nearest lingerie department for a proper bra fitting and some new undies…
It might sound daft, given that the sofa is where we enjoy most of our chill-out time, but your favourite comfy seat could actually be putting a strain on your back. Significant amounts of people have reported back problems after purchasing a new sofa, which physiotherapists put down to the fact that many sofas cause us to slouch and leave the lower back in a flexed position.** Staying like this for a long time irritates the discs between the vertebrae, which can lead to back pain and even sciatica. 'If you are lounging on a spongy sofa then try sitting with a pillow halfway under your bottom and another in the dent of your lower back' says Alex. 'This will help you maintain a nice neutral spine.'
There's little we love more than our beds, but if yours is set up wrongly it could be making your back pain worse as you sleep! 'Sleeping all night with a pillow that's too low, high or soft causes the head to tilt sideways and puts stress on the joints in your neck,' explains Alex. 'Your head and shoulder position should be roughly the same when standing and lying – in other words, with the neck and shoulders and a right angle'. Time to get measuring that pillow height…
So there you have it, some of the most surprising, yet common causes of back pain. In general, keeping a strong neck and shoulders through gentle exercise, such as pilates and yoga, is a good way to prevent imbalances. Taking targeted painkillers, which provide eight hours relief, will also help provide relief from your soreness. And if the pain is really getting you down, visit your GP or a chartered physiotherapist for help.