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Back pain isn’t just about heavy lifting or sleeping the wrong way. Here, 14 surprising everyday hab

1. You’re Chained to Your Desk

Did you know that sitting puts 40% more pressure on your spine than standing?

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 co-worker stops by to chat. Make sure your office chair supports the curve of your spine, 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.

2. You Have a Long Commute

Just like at your desk, hunching over a steering wheel can tighten chest muscles and cause your shoulders to round.

Fix it: Be sure you sit at a 90-degree angle, close to the wheel so you don’t have to stretch. Extending your leg puts your back in a compromised position, but many people don’t even realize they’re doing it.

3. You’ve Been Ditching the Gym

Get moving to alleviate aches and pains and fix back pain faster.

Fix it: In fact, most sufferers would benefit from more exercise—particularly frequent walks, which ease stiffness. For some relief, stretch your hamstrings and hips. Moves like these will take some strain off your back.

4. You Don’t Do Yoga

By improving circulation and lowering stress, just about any kind of exercise promotes back pain recovery. But yoga may be best.

Fix it: You can find yoga classes everywhere—at gyms, YMCAs, and local studios. Make sure to tell the instructor about your pain so she can help modify certain moves for you.

5. You’re Addicted to Crunches

Sit-ups and crunches may actually cause more back pain than they prevent.

Fix it: You don’t have to ditch crunches entirely, but you should do them slowly and use proper form. Include them as part of a broader core workout that also strengthens your transverse abdominus. This muscle is particularly important for a strong, steady core that supports your back, and the best way to strengthen it is with (noncrunch!) exercises like these. Added bonus: You’ll whittle your middle and beat hard-to-torch belly fat while improving posture and relieving back pain.

6. You’re Not the Healthiest Eater

Research shows that eating habits that are good for your heart, weight, and blood sugar are also good for your back.

Fix it: A back-healthy diet is one that reduces inflammation. Avoid excess caffeine and processed foods (read ingredient labels for the following: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, enriched wheat flour, words ending in –ose, and additives that end in –ates or -ites), and eating more whole grains, soy, nuts and seeds, protein (chicken, fish, lean meat), vegetables, and fruit.

7. You Carry Your Entire Life in Your Purse

A stuffed-to-the-gills handbag may cause back damage that’s comparable to a sports injury!

Fix it: First, carry the lightest bag possible. (Some of today’s styles—with chains, studs, and other hardware—are heavy even when empty!) The American Chiropractic Association recommends that your bag—when fully loaded—weighs no more than 10% of your body weight. Alternate which shoulder you carry the bag with from day to day, and consider splitting your stuff between two bags (one for each arm), which will pain-proof your load by distributing it more evenly.

8. Your Mattress Is from Another Decade

Can’t remember the last time you replaced it? Your back may be in trouble.

Fix it: When you do replace your mattress, take a Goldilocks approach: Pick one that’s not too squishy or too hard. Very firm mattresses can increase pressure on the spine and worsen pain. A study of 313 people revealed that those who caught Zzzs on medium-firm mattresses were more likely to report pain improvement than those on firmer ones. To help ease nighttime discomfort even more, tuck a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back, between your knees if you’re a side sleeper, or beneath your stomach and hips if you snooze on your belly.

9. Your Bike Isn’t Adjusted Quite Right

Do you routinely get a sore back after even a leisurely bike ride? You may need to adjust your equipment.

Fix it: Try this quick test: When you straddle a road bike or hybrid, the bar should be about 1 to 2 inches from your crotch. On mountain bikes, allow 3 to 6 inches. As for your seat height, your down leg should be fully extended when the heel of that foot is on the pedal in the 6 o’clock position. Now put the ball of that foot on the pedal; there should be a slight bend in your knee in the down position. You should be able to keep a slight bend in your elbows and not feel stretched out when holding the handlebars. If your bike isn’t adjusted properly, check with a local bike shop or bike club to find someone who can properly fit it for you.

*Another tweak that can help: Tilt the front tip of your saddle down about 10 to 15 degrees. This simple adjustment takes pressure off your lower spine and pelvis, research shows. When researchers made this adjustment for 40 recreational cyclists who had back pain, the pain went away in 72% of the group—and another 20% reported significant reduction in pain.

10. You Have a Thing for High Heels

Or flip-flops. Both lead to foot instability, which can in turn affect your back.

Fix it: You don’t have to forgo trendy footwear—just don’t walk long distances in them. Commute in comfy flats or supportive sneakers, and consider adding cushioning inserts to un-comfy shoes. When Lehigh University researchers gave back-pain sufferers lightweight, flexible shoes with simple cushions, 80% reported significant relief within a year.

11. You Ignore the Pain

Trying to block out pain could make it worse, finds research from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

Fix it: Accepting pain may be the best way to mentally cope. Try thinking about the sensory details of the experience, not the negative emotions. If you have a back spasm, describe the pain to yourself—if it’s burning or throbbing—and remind yourself that it will pass.

12. You Hold a Grudge

To err is human. To forgive could make your aching back feel simply divine.

Fix it: Forgiveness isn’t a once-and-done act; it involves choosing, again and again, to replace anger and resentment with understanding toward someone who has done you wrong. Try this: First imagine someone you love. Think, May this person be at ease, happy, healthy, safe, and secure. Repeat, imagining yourself, then someone you don’t know personally. Finally, bring to mind someone for whom you don’t have good feelings.

13. You Don’t Veg Out Enough

It’s not all in your head—chronic or acute stress can directly trigger back pain.

Fix it: Sometimes even just realizing that stress may be at the root of your pain can help. 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.

14. You Watch Too Much TV

Parking yourself in front of the tube for hours and hours a day doesn’t make your back very happy.

Fix it: Limit TV to shows you really want to watch, instead of idly channel surfing. And instead of fast-forwarding through commercials, do some stretches or strength moves during the breaks, which will prevent muscle strain from sitting still too long. If you have a kid complaining of back pain, make sure he walks at least 1 mile daily; this can cut back pain in half and give his still-developing spine a chance to stretch out.

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