7 Stay-At-Home Habits That Can Cause Back Pain
Is everyone experiencing more back pain?
We’re nearing the end of 2021, and many Americans are still spending a lot (if not nearly all) of their time at home. And, for better or worse, the blurry mix of work, life, pajamas, and Zoom likely isn’t going away anytime soon.
Unfortunately, that also means the nearly 65% increase in back pain complaints since the pandemic started aren’t about to disappear, either. So what’s changed since we’ve shifted to spending more time at home, and what habits are you doing that might be causing more back issues?
Here are seven to keep on your radar:
1. Working In Bed
Why it’s a pain in your back: Now that you’re working from home more frequently (or always), you’ve no doubt found some interesting spots to set up your office, your bed included. Yet if you’re not paying attention, it’s surprisingly easy to sink into reclined, back-stressing positions that you’d be ashamed to let your chiropractor see.
The solution: Aim to sit up straighter, and maintain the natural curve of the spine by placing an additional pillow behind your lumbar spine. If it’s a habit you’re not planning on breaking, it’s worth investing into a backrest pillow to make your “alternative office” more spine-friendly.
2. Bad Sleep Quality
Why it’s a pain in your back: Studies suggest that poor sleep quality is directly associated with acute low back pain. And while the exact nature of the cause-and-effect connection between the two is still up for debate, it’s a fact that rest is an essential component of soft tissue recovery. If you’re not sleeping well, you’re simply not giving your body the ability to recover.
The solution: If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, two culprits might be your body position during sleep or your mattress. Everyone should avoid stomach sleeping. Sleeping on your stomach with your head turned to one side puts stress on your neck, back and pelvis. Think about it: if you spent 8 hours with your head cranked to the side during the day, you’d end up with a pretty sore and stiff neck. You’re putting the same stress on your neck and back every night if you’re sleeping on your stomach.
And if your mattress is over 8 years old, or you notice a dip or depression in it, it may very likely be contributing to the issue as well. Not sure exactly what model of mattress to choose? Visit a retailer and try out the mattresses instead of using online sellers. Aim for a mattress that’s as firm as possible without being uncomfortable – if the mattress causes you any discomfort anywhere on your body, move on.
In general, most people do well with hybrid mattresses that provide both the stability your back needs to stay aligned along with the cushion and softness that most people desire when they’re hitting the hay.
3. Slouching on the couch
Why it’s a pain in your back: The average American spends a whopping 44 days (that’s 1,060 hours) sitting on the sofa each year. Those Netflix binges can wreak havoc on your spine, especially if your back is sinking into the couch. While your wonderfully soft, low, deep, modern sofa might look beautiful and feel amazing, they’re often impossible to sit in without “couch slouch”. And contrary to conventional wisdom, the position you sit in matters just as much as how long you’re sitting when it comes to back pain.
The solution: Ideally, you should sit with both feet on the floor, your knees at or just below hip level and your back upright and well-supported. In reality, though, holding this kind of pose – whether you’re enjoying an hours-long marathon or just catching up – isn’t exactly relaxing.
So choose your next couch carefully. Higher seats and backs are much more posture-friendly than the low-profile couches in style right now. And most manufacturers offer you the option of foam-filled or feather-filled cushions. While feather-filled may look and feel softer, foam interiors offer firmer support.
4. Going Barefoot
Why it’s a pain in your back: Going barefoot (or wearing shoes without adequate support) can’t protect your feet and ankles from rolling in (pronating) or rolling out (supinating) when you walk and exercise. Over time this can translate to problems in your knees, hips, pelvis and spine.
The solution: Wear shoes with good arch support (even if you’re not leaving the house), and get custom orthotics if you need them! At Ascent Chiropractic we recommend Foot Levelers custom orthotics because their foot scanning technology is leaps and bounds more advanced than the methods used by literally every other orthotic company on the market. The better the scan, the better the orthotic fits your foot – which translates to less stress on the rest of your body.
When your feet are supported correctly, everything works better. In fact, a 2017 study from the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that using Foot Levelers custom orthotics alone can reduce low back pain by an average of 34.5%!
5. Starting a Garden
Why it’s a pain in your back: Improper lifting and twisting techniques – think hefting bags of dirt, plants, and pots – can result in acute strain on the structures in the lower back.
The solution: Practice safe lifting techniques, including bending at the knees versus the waist to lift from the ground, keeping items close to the chest, and avoiding twisting the upper body while lifting. Then work on building those core muscles to help protect the back from injury.
Exercises that maintain a neutral, closed-chain position are the best way to improve core strength while protecting your back. Try these three exercises, also known as McGill’s Big 3.
1.) Modified Curl-Up: Lying on your back with one knee bent and one straight puts the pelvis, spine and core muscles in optimal alignment. Place your hand under the arch of your low back, and press into your hand each time you lift your head off the floor. 10-12 reps, 3x.
2.) Bird Dog: On all fours with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below hips, squeeze your abs and glutes. Lift right arm up to shoulder level and left leg back and up to hip level. Repeat with the opposite side. 8-10 reps, 3x.
3.) Modified Side Bridge: On your side, place your elbow directly under shoulder. With your knees bent, one touching the floor with the other on top of it, lift your hips off the ground. Reach your top hand up or place it on your bottom shoulder. Squeeze your abs and glutes, and hold. 8-10 reps, 2x.
6. Baking & Cooking
Why it’s a pain in your back: You’re most likely standing on a hard surface for long periods of time, and if you’re not wearing supportive shoes or you’re going barefoot, you change how you stand and walk, which in turn affects the alignment of your entire lower body and pelvis.
The solution: Avoid cooking barefoot: Wear supportive shoes instead. Also, use good posture as you prepare food, being careful not to lean over your work area – standing closer to the counter can help you stay more upright. And when you need a break, take it.
7. Too Many Hours at a (Makeshift) Desk
Why it’s a pain in your back: Working from home now? Not only are you probably cramming more work into that same eight-hour work day, you’re also likely not getting up and moving around as much. The problem? Sitting puts 40% more pressure on vulnerable structures in your spine than standing does.
The solution: When sitting, pull your chair as close as possible to your desk. Then check the space between your back and the chair, and if there’s a gap, fill it with a pillow or lumbar support cushion, which will put you in a more balanced position. Here’s the rest of our guide to optimize your workspace ergonomics.
Remember to take frequent stretching breaks as you sit – you should aim to take at least a five minute break away from your screen every 30 to 45 minutes. Follow these 8 gentle, easy yoga stretches that can be done just about anywhere to help reverse the compression on your back caused by sitting.
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
If you’re dealing with back, neck or joint pain and it doesn’t disappear with these tips, it’s time to give Ascent Chiropractic a call. At Ascent Chiropractic we’re committed to not just relieving symptoms but to correcting their cause and optimizing your body to function better than it ever has before.
Discover the difference personalized, comprehensive care at Ascent Chiropractic makes. Instead of just fixing your pain, let’s fix you. To schedule an appointment, call us at 262-345-4166 or use our online scheduling app.