5 Unexpected Lifestyle Triggers for Back Pain

Are these seemingly unrelated factors contributing to your bouts with back pain?

There are plenty of issues with the spine that are entirely beyond the control of the person who is suffering when it comes to back pain. Congenital spinal defects, spinal tumors, slipped discs, and plenty more can wreak havoc on the back without any participation from those they afflict. On the other hand, plenty of factors can bring back pain in a person who is utterly unaware that they can play a significant role in their relief. What’s more, some common pain-in-the-back (or neck) triggers could be things a person is doing daily – unaware that they’re contributing to the pain. If you or someone you care about is suffering through occasional back pain episodes and wondering what’s causing them, read on for some lifestyle factors that may, perhaps surprisingly, be to blame and what you can do to prevent them.

Significant Sitting

In the last decade, study after study has highlighted the negative health impact of spending too much time in a seated position. Most people equate that risk to becoming sedentary and overweight. However, the adverse effects on the spine of too much sitting cannot be denied. The human spine was designed for movement. Between the time we spend asleep and the addition of eight hours of a workday in a seated position for many people, no wonder our spines are screaming in pain. Many of us are spending most hours in a day not moving around. Exercise (yes, this includes the simple act of walking) nourishes the spine and strength for its surrounding muscles. If you’re someone who is often sedentary and battles back pain and stiffness, try walking for at least 30 minutes every day. This should be a minimum fitness goal for everyone, whether they experience back pain or not.


Most Americans know that smoking is horrible for the lungs and respiratory health. Some even know that there is a connection between smoking and heart disease. Fewer, however, understand that chronic cigarette smoking is linked to back pain. Though many clinical studies have suggested a link between smoking and back pain, few explain why that link exists. However, the strong theory exists that damage caused by smoking to the vascular structures of spinal discs and joints is to blame. If you are a smoker who also experiences back pain, talk to your doctor right away about steps to quitting for good.

Sleeping on the Wrong Mattress

Old or overly plush mattresses can be a recipe for back pain as they tend to provide inadequate support for the spine. When shopping for a new mattress, though soft and plush can seem blissfully inviting, you really should be looking for a mattress that is medium-to-firm. Studies have shown that fewer back pain episodes are reported in people who replace mattresses when they’re over five years old, as well as those who select firmer over plush mattresses.


Stress is one of those words that we can subjectively apply to a wide range of situational circumstances. Whether it’s stressing out when you’re stuck in traffic, or feeling the emotional effects of a significant medical issue, for example – stress is relative. What that means is that it does not matter what stresses you out. When it does, a cascade of health effects can follow. Feelings are powerful and can lead to significant muscle tension, especially in the back and neck muscles. Depression and anxiety can further aggravate that tension. If you are feeling considerable stress and also battling back pain, the two might be related. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional about healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors so that they don’t cause damage to other aspects of your overall health.

Shoddy Shoes

Contrary to popular belief, high heels aren’t the only footwear culprit that can wreak havoc on your back. If you wear shoes that are old, flat, or lack adequate arch support, all can be significant contributors to back pain. The shoes you put on your feet provide support to your spine while you’re upright. Give it the support and stability it needs by investing in and wearing properly fitted and supportive shoes. 

Again, it bears mentioning that not all back pain contributors are apparent, and sometimes, there’s more than one factor to blame. Especially for people who have experienced chronic back pain (back pain that has lasted for three months or longer), a visit to a spine specialist can help get to the bottom of what is causing the pain and put you on the road to recovery. 





Neel Anand MD