1. You're a coach potato.
Binge watching your favourite shows can stir up back pain. "Leaving your muscles untested and unstrengthened does no favours for your lower back," says Dr Kaixuan Liu, founder and president of Atlantic Spine Center, in New Jersey. "Plus, if your lower back is already acting up, staying sedentary may prolong or worsen pain." Get up every half hour or so if you're binge-watching a show on Netflix and incorporate exercises like the plank (hold 30 seconds or more for 2 to 3 sets) to strengthen your back and core.
2. You smoke.
"Nicotine cuts down on healthy blood flow all around our body, and that includes to the vertebrae and spinal discs," says Dr. Liu. "That can cause them to break down, causing inflammation and pain." A study published in Human Brain Mapping shows smoking makes you more likely to feel other back pain triggers as well. Quit smoking to reduce your risk.
3. You injure another body part.
Called "referred pain", discomfort that radiates from one area and feels as if it's coming from another area, may be felt in the lower back, says Dr. Liu. "A hip or pelvis injury such as a muscle bruise or broken bone can cause referred pain to the lower back." Appendicitis and stomach problems may also create referred pain. A fever, numbness or tingling or muscle weakness in your back or limbs calls for a medical evaluation.
4. You're depressed.
A study published in PAIN shows a link between lower back pain and depression. The odds of having back pain were 1.6 times higher for subjects with symptoms of depression and anxiety. "Stress can cause enormous muscle tension in the lower back," says Dr. Liu. Meditation can help. A 2009 study shows mindfulness meditation eases muscle-related pain. To try it yourself, simply focus on your breath as you breathe in and out, being in the moment, without allowing outside distractions to enter your mind.
5. You overdo exercise.
Too many repetitions or using heavy weights can trigger back pain and stiffness. "Knowing if you're doing too much requires attention to your back, not just during your workouts, but in the hours after them," says David Geier, MD, an orthopedic surgeon. Normal muscle soreness usually goes away the next day. But lingering pain bending down, twisting or extending your back that continues in the days after the workout should be evaluated by a medical professional.
6. You have a urinary tract infection or kidney stones.
UTI's can cause bladder inflammation, which can cause abdominal pain that radiates to the back, says urologist Brian Norouzi. Kidney stones can also cause back pain when they block drainage of the kidney, says Dr. Norouzi. See your doctor at the first signs of a UTI: pain or burning during urination and a feeling of urgency and need to urinate frequently.
7. You have an undiagnosed health problem.
Back pain can also be a sign of osteoporosis, an abdominal aneurysm, uterine or ovarian cancer in women and even lung cancer, says Dr. Liu. "We can't always identify the specific reason for lower back pain, but advanced techniques to diagnose the cause — such as x-rays, MRI or CAT scans or other tests — give us a leg up toward getting our patients back to pain-free living. The first step should always be to obtain a diagnosis."
8. You wear the wrong accessories.
Over time, a weight imbalance from carrying a heavy shoulder bag could cause lower back discomfort, says Dr. Geier. "To prevent it, alternate the shoulder you use to carry the bag, or decrease its weight." Constrictive clothing such as Spanx can also cause harm in a couple different ways, says Jeremy Smith, MD, a spine surgeon with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in California. "They restrict the normal range of motion of the spine. This combined with compression may inhibit the normal conditioning of the stabilizing muscles, making the back more susceptible to strain and injury." Prevent problems by buying Spanx in the correct size, not too small.