Before turning to more serious treatments, here’s a rundown of lifestyle factors that can contribute to or even cause back pain.

Daily life can make back pain worse

It happens to the best of us–you make a small change in your lifestyle and you start to get a niggling sense that your back is uncomfortable.

Perhaps you recently changed your sleeping arrangements or you got a new desk chair, which shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm at first. But then, days or weeks later, you’re beset with unexpected back pain. You might not even realize what’s behind it.

Before resorting to more serious treatments like medication or surgery, it is important to consider the potential lifestyle factors that might be contributing to or even causing your back pain. Fortunately, it is possible that a simple and easy change is what it takes to drastically improve your quality of life.

Sleep position

How you position your body when you sleep might have a negative effect on your back and neck. Ideally, you want your body to stay in alignment, meaning that your bones and joints should be arranged in a way that helps them function without injury. 

If you tend to sleep on your stomach, for example, you are essentially placing pressure on your spine which in turn causes problems with your back. 

If you are able to, adjusting your sleep position each night can be crucial for your physical health, so that you are not putting undue strain on your neck and back while you snooze. 

Posture at work or on your commute

If you are working a desk job, it is likely that your workplace set-up is a major contributing factor to your back pain. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over million workers experience back injuries anually. Depending on how your office space is set up – think your chair and your desk – and how you sit, you could be putting unnecessary pressure on your spine. 

It is always important that you maintain proper posture when you are sitting at your desk; to do so, avoid slouching your shoulders and back when you are in front of your computer. By hunching your body, you are hurting your spine and back muscles. Additionally, consider making adjustments to your office space that reduce the burden on your back. 

Sitting at your desk for an extended amount of time can also add stress to your neck and back. If you are physically able to and your job allows you to step away, it is a good idea to take walking – or standing – breaks throughout the day. Your body will be more relaxed and comfortable when you return to your desk. 

The way you carry things

Always carrying your purse or laptop bag on one side of your body can put your spine out of alignment

Carrying a heavy backpack can also lead to back pain and muscle tension, as you are more likely to slouch your back. If you need to carry large items, consider investing in a rolling backpack. Otherwise, you can adjust your shoulder straps or make sure that your backpack is fitted properly. 

You can also consider lightening the load so that you are not carrying too much weight on your back. You may choose to leave items in the trunk of your car on the way to work, or leave your belongings at your office so that you do not have to constantly lug them around with you on your commute. 

Excessive sugar consumption

Did you know that your diet can be causing your back pain? As Medical News Today reports, excessive sugar consumption can cause the body to produce more pain chemicals called cytokines (which can cause or worsen joint inflammation). For some people, that could look like worsening knee pain or carpal tunnel syndrome. For others, it could result in an increase in back pain.

It is wise to keep an eye on your nutritional intake and potentially reduce your sugar consumption if you are experiencing unexplained back discomfort. 

Core muscle weakness

Weak core muscles can result in back strains and other issues. Having strong core muscles is thus instrumental in supporting your back as these mujscles work together to stabilize your spine. Activities like yoga and strength training (think planks and lunges) are all good ways to strengthen your core muscles and in turn prevent injuries to the back. 

Read more: Abdominal trunk muscle weakness and its association with chronic low back pain


Yes, research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with chronic back pain, and that addressing PTSD through therapy may improve back pain. 

Because PTSD changes the way our nervous system functions, it can lead to chronic muscle tension, hunched posture, and poor sleep. These are all ways your body tries to protect you when you feel (emotionally and subconsciously) unsafe, which is at the core of PTSD. Unfortunately, all of these symptoms of PTSD also contribute to the roots of back pain if the mental health condition is left untreated. 

Any overexertion or overextension in the recent past

Day-to-day activities can sometimes lead us to strain or overexert our bodies, thus causing back pain. Maybe you had to move or lift an unusually heavy item or you carried your kids on a long walk. 

Although exercising and being active are important for our overall health, certain sports – such as weightlifting and gymnastics – can also cause back strains especially if you do not practice good form. If you have access to one, it is important that you consult your coach or trainer about how to achieve proper form when working out so that you are not risking injury. 

Physical trauma to your back can also be the culprit for back issues (e.g. from a car accident or fall). These injuries are serious and will require immediate medical attention to resolve.

When you should definitely see a doctor for your back pain

Many medical clinics recommend seeking support from a doctor when your back pain does not subside within one or two weeks, or when the pain is debilitating and intense. There are instances when back pain merits immediate or emergency care. For instance, acute, one-sided back pain accompanied by nausea can indicate emergency kidney problems.

If your issue could be caused by overexertion or weak core muscles, it might be a good idea to ask for a referral to a physical therapist who will work with you to strengthen your back and/or core. The earlier that you seek care, the better you avoid risking injury or chronic back problems.  

Takeaways about back pain

Back pain can, at best, be a minor annoyance and at worst, it can fester and result in a debilitating condition that severely limits your range of motion. 

By looking into the possible sources of back pain, you can see what types of lifestyle tweaks might minimize your discomfort and prevent further frustration. Although medical attention is necessary in certain circumstances, simply changing your posture at work or adjusting your sleeping position might be just enough to reduce back pain.