How your lifestyle habits contribute to lower back pain

Updated March 2016

shoveling and back pain

Many significant factors can contribute to lower back pain.  Your lifestyle can have a significant impact, next to injury or disease of the spine.  Your type of lifestyle is one of the easiest areas to address, but sometimes the most difficult to adjust.

When people think of lower back pain and lifestyle, they first tend to think that sedentary lifestyle is the main cause.  Although it can be a major cause, others such as diet, stress, smoking, posture, proper lifting and amount or intensity of exercise come in to play.

A Sedentary Lifestyle

Sedentary lifestyle, one that we are all guilty of on at least more than one occasion, is sometimes beyond our control.  A sedentary lifestyle prevents and delays us from the proper conditioning that our bodies need in order to meet the demands of the day.  low back pain from sports activity

Because the lumbar spine must bear heavy forces from our bodies, the muscles that support and protect it need daily exercise to function well.

Lack of exercise causes the low back to become stiff.  Stiffness is usually worse in the morning while muscles can remain tight, weak, and sore for the remainder of the day.  The discomfort and lack of mobility, deters and discourages us from wanting to exercise these very same muscle groups that are affected.

Sometimes. we avoid exercise as a measure to protect us from further discomfort and believe that increased rest is needed to recover.  However, too much rest is also known to slow down our recovery efforts.

It is really from lack of exercise that leads to reduced flexibility, mobility and endurance.  This is a very difficult cycle and habit to break.

Because the lumbar spine is so forgiving of the abuse that we subject it to, we only notice slight aches and pains from time to time.  We address these issues with more rest or over the counter medications.  Usually over the counter pills are adequate and we continue with their use along with our current sedentary lifestyle.  What we do not realize, is the amount of injury, long term damage and degeneration that can occur since we cannot observe direct damage to our spine.

By rearranging our priorities, investing much needed time to keep our backs healthy and stronger, and engaging in back healthy activity, we can reverse this cycle, accomplish more and enjoy more free time.

An Active Lifestyle

low back pain from workActive lifestyles are certainly what we all desire for our long term health and overall fitness and fulfillment.  As with sedentary lifestyle, there is also a strong correlation with an active lifestyle and low back pain.

Many people believe that their active lifestyle is what helps to keep their lower back pain free. There are also many people who are active yet suffer low back pain.  This is also upsetting and discouraging as they are trying to stay active yet suffer with back pain themselves.

They experience the same challenging cycle where they believe that with constant exercise, they can keep their back pain free while avoiding any sedentary choices.  This leads to lower back fatigue and possible injury if they are following an insufficient approach to back care.

When we think of an active lifestyle, we must not only think of a physically active one, but one that places priority on the health and safety of your lumbar spine.

All activities, including sports and exercise can be performed safely, provided that the body has adequately been conditioned to protect the spine first.  Use caution with activities in which there is little emphasis on posture, strength, and flexibility of the spine and hips.

By focusing more on protecting your spine, you can gain more power, mobility and endurance that will result in better performance and enjoyment when you are active.


low back pain from bending

Proper lifting is key as it requires a series of conscious steps and movements in order to move or carry something safely without back pain.  Learning what is involved in proper lifting technique in a step wise order protects the lower back and makes lifting a safer and more enjoyable task.

It takes time to develop but is very easy to learn.  Over time, it becomes more effortless as the correct muscles are activated and engaged naturally.  Lifting technique is explained in the ‘treatment and prevention’section of the ‘back pain’ category.




low back pain from sittingPosture is key to prevention of lower back pain.  It is the first requirement before engaging in any task.  It affects every area of your daily life and requires a conscious effort and commitment to maintain and


It is vital that your posture is correct during activity as the lumbar spine must bear the most physical stress in virtually everything physical task done with the body.  Poor posture is more common to have as correct posture can feel unnatural over time.

With discipline, it becomes easier and requires less effort over time.   Posture and a sedentary lifestyle go hand in hand and work together to contribute to make back pain progressively worse.  Ways to learn, develop and maintain correct posture is found under the ‘treatment and prevention’ section in the ‘back pain’ category of the web site.


Smoking has an effect on lower back pain.   Smokers are three times more likely to develop lower back pain than non smokers.  The nicotine in cigarettes is known to cause thickening of the walls in our blood vessels such as our arteries.  This extends to the blood vessels that circulate the flow of blood to the muscles groups that protect the vertebrae, nerves and to a lesser extent, the discs themselves.

Progressive narrowing of the blood vessels results in less circulation of protective blood cells, oxygen, nutrients and removal of waste products.  Blood supply, healing and recovery is slower and less efficient.  The potential for muscle injury and damage is higher for smokers.


Stress affects everyone regardless of back pain but stress does have a physical effect on the lower back itself.  Numerous professionals, institutions, books, websites and other sources of information are available assist us with the effects of stress on our lives.

One way in which stress can affect our lower backs, is on our ability to manage our time effectively and also use it exercise properly.  Sometimes with what little time that we do have available.  We tend to place exercise as last priority and no longer consciously exercise, sleep, eat and maintain correct posture as well.

Another way is where stress affect our natural mental ability to relax. Here, the body becomes chronically tense and enters in preparation for a real or perceived stressful event.   This generates significant muscle tightness in the lower back.  The lower back is very vulnerable to this condition become it is a very physically active part of our body.   Muscle tightness in the lower back occurs as the body tries to stabilize the spine prior to the stressful event.

Stress also lowers our tolerance levels and raises our emotional response.   We tend to find other ways to cope with back pain, either with more over the counter or prescription medication, or by releasing our pent up and tense energy physically.  Existing physical stress, such as a previous injury or fatigue also exacerbates stress that is already present in our lower back.  We become to tired to exercise in order to treat out back issues.  A chronic state of stress leads to chronic tightening of these muscles and minimal time and opportunity for them to relax and recover.


back pain and diet

Diet is a very complicated factor and sometimes requires professional help in order for it to become an effective part of a back healthy treatment plan.

However, the most associated problem with back pain and diet is weight gain.

Extra weight places an unnecessary burden on the joints of the spine, hips, knees and feet.  Extra weight stored in the midsection can cause the pelvis to tilt forward more thereby increasing anterior pelvic tilt.  This makes back pain worse as the lumbar disc bulge more and the support from the abdominals are limited and unconditioned.  This weight causes lumbar imbalance, pinched nerves, sciatica, disc pain and facet joint paint.

Pain relief that can be achieved with a lower back pain exercise plan, can be more efficient and will progress faster together with a successful diet plan.