You have a long commute.
Hunching over a steering wheel can tighten chest muscles and cause your shoulders to round. Slumping posture can zap energy and make you look heavier, not to mention cause back and neck problems. Back pain is the number one complaint of the patients of Darran W. Marlow, DC, director of the chiropractic division at the Texas Back Institute, and he advises them to first think about their driving posture.
Fix it: “Be sure you sit at a 90-degree angle, close to the wheel so you don’t have to stretch,” he says. “Extending your leg puts your back in a compromised position, but many people don’t even realize they’re doing it.”
You’re a desk jockey.
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Did you know that sitting puts 40% more pressure on your spine than standing? But let’s be honest: Maintaining proper posture is probably the last thing you’re thinking about when under a work deadline. And on a jam-packed day, regular stretching breaks may not seem like a wise way to spend your time. But skipping these habits may cause your back to suffer. That’s because back muscles will weaken if you don’t use them; inactive joints lose lubrication and age more quickly.
Fix it: Sitting at a 135-degree angle can reduce compression of the discs in the spine, so lean back slightly every now and then. Do it when you take a phone call or a coworker stops by to chat, Sinett recommends. Make sure your office chair supports the curve of your spine, he says: Your lower back should be supported, and your head should be straight—not lurching forward—when you look at your computer screen. Get up and walk around for a couple of minutes every half hour—take trips to get water, use the bathroom, or grab papers off the printer.
You don’t veg out.
It’s not all in your head—chronic or acute stress can directly trigger back pain. When you’re under the gun, your whole body clenches up, including the muscles in your neck and back. But muscles that contract need to relax eventually, says Sinett. If you’re stressed all the time and those muscles stay tight, it can eventually cause major pain.
Fix it: Sometimes even just realizing that stress may be at the root of your pain can help, says Sinett. Then you can prioritize ways to calm down each day, be it through exercise, laughing with a friend or partner, reading a good book, etc. One particularly helpful therapy, research shows, is listening to music. In an older Austrian study of 65 people who had herniated disks, researchers found that a combination of music and relaxation imagery significantly reduced lower-back pain. Everyone got standard medical care (painkillers, physical therapy), but half also listened to music and performed relaxation exercises every day. After 10 days, the music group reported less pain while climbing stairs, getting out of bed, and even sleeping. After 21 days, the music group’s overall pain was more than 40% less than the nonmusic group. “Music helps reduce stress hormones and muscular tension,” says researcher Franz Wendtner, a psychologist at the General Hospital of Salzburg. (Try these 5 simple meditations to calm down fast.)
You skip the gym.
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Get moving to alleviate aches and pains and fix back pain faster. Research shows that 40% of people become less active after back pain strikes—a strategy that’s likely to delay healing or even make their condition worse.
Fix it: In fact, most sufferers would benefit from more exercise—particularly frequent walks, which ease stiffness, says spine surgeon Raj Rao, MD. For instant relief, he recommends stretching your hamstrings and hips.