Although you can’t change your genes, sex, or age, which are common risk factors for back pain, you can change your lifestyle in ways that may lessen back pain or help you to cope with it better.
Work and play
Certain jobs and activities put a greater strain on your back. Work that involves long-term travel in motor vehicles is notoriously hard on the back, for instance, because it involves prolonged periods of sitting and exposure to vibration. The sitting positions necessary for office work—from typing to computer programming—can also eventually take a toll on your back regardless of your age. Several other job-related activities increase the likelihood of future back problems, such as lifting, pulling, pushing, bending, repetitive motion patters and heavy physical exertion.
Smokers are at greater risk for back pain, possibly because smoking damages blood vessels that bring nutrients to the spine. Smokers are also much more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic, disabling back pain. One nationwide study in the United States found that 36.9% of current smokers reported back pain, compared with 23.5% of never-smokers—a striking and important difference.
Body weight alone (along with your height and general build) appears to have little to do with your likelihood of developing back pain in the first place. However, being overweight puts you at increased risk of flare-ups if you already have a back condition. The reasons aren’t clear. It may be because excess body weight places greater stress on the spine or because it often goes hand in hand with reduced physical activity.
Despite your parents’ admonition to "sit up straight," experts now agree that, in most cases, posture alone, whether bad or good, will neither predispose you to back pain nor shield you from it. Slouching doesn’t seem to have much effect on the basic health of your spine. But before you slump down in your chair, note that poor posture can worsen existing pain. Improving your body mechanics can help relieve your symptoms and prevent flare-ups Being physically out of condition is an important reason people have recurring bouts of the "sprain and strain" type of back pain.
Stress, anxiety, and negative emotions have all been linked to a higher likelihood of developing back pain. The reasons for this are not completely understood.
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that chronic pain and depression share some of the same biochemical features. Imbalances in the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, for example, play a role in mood disorders such as depression and also are involved in producing the sensation of pain. This could explain why people suffering from depression tend to experience more severe and long-lasting pain than other people.
Anxiety and depression can also sensitize you to pain, making you feel worse. So can the disturbed sleep that often accompanies depression and anxiety. Fortunately, you can often address psychological influences on back pain with cognitive behavioral therapy, where a counselor helps you recognize negative thoughts, behaviors, and feelings and respond in a more positive way.
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