Common Reasons for That Achin' Back



"Sitting is worse than standing. Sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on your back, especially if you're not using core muscles to support your back," said Shamie.

What's even worse is sitting and leaning forward, which places the maximum amount of force on the lower back, he added.

"The very worst thing is if you're seated and leaning forward to pick something up from the floor. You can pop a disc," he said.

Instead of leaning and reaching, Shamie explained the best way to pick something up is to get on the knees, pick it up and keep the object close to the body.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends sitting in a chair with good lower back support. If sitting for a long time, people should rest their feet on a low stool or stack of books. But if possible, switch sitting positions and get up and walk around a bit throughout the day.

Mattress Type

Whether a soft mattress or a firm mattress is better for the back is up for debate. There hasn't been a lot of research on it, but a 2003 study found that people who slept on medium-firm mattresses reported less back pain.

"If a bed is either too stiff or too soft, it's likely to cause back problems, but there is a lot of individual variation on that," said Dr. Richard Deyo, professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland. "You need enough support so the spine is not sagging, but you don't want it so rigid that the spine is forced into an unnatural position."

High Heels

There's nothing to definitively link wearing high heels to the increased likelihood of developing back pain, but experts say it does make sense.

"Having the heel elevated changes the posture and probably forces the lower back into more of an extended position, and that can be painful over time," said Deyo.

But Shamie said wearing high heels is more likely to affect other parts of the body more than the back.

"High heels can put a lot of stress on your feet, but not as much on your lower back."

Purses and Backpacks

"It makes perfect sense that if you have a heavy backpack, there's definitely a potential risk for injuring your lower back and other joints," said Shamie.

In general, he said, maximum weight should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of body weight.

Deyo, however, said the backpack issue has been controversial, and study findings have been conflicting. Nonetheless, it's probably wise to get an extremely heavy load off the back if possible.

"It's wise to using a rolling suitcase or backpack if you can rather than lifting and twisting. The problem may not be having a load on your back, but lifting and twisting it."

When wearing a backpack, it should be high on the back and close to the body to keep it in the body's center of gravity.

Carrying too much on the shoulder can cause the body to tilt, which could also potentially lead to back problems, Shamie said.

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