Back pain affects up to 80% of people in the U.S., and is a leading cause of both disability and absence from work. The risk factors for back pain are plentiful, but fortunately, many of them are preventable.

Here are the five common risk factors for back pain:

1. Age

By the time you hit middle age, you’ve used your back over a lifetime of bending, twisting, and turning. Your spine has supported you all of those years, and its components often begin to deteriorate by the time you enter your 40s. Jelly-filled discs separate your vertebrae from one another, and they wear down as you age. This wearing down can result in pain. Other problems that can result in back pain, including arthritis, sometimes become apparent starting in your 40s and 50s.

2. Sedentary lifestyle

Even young people can experience back pain if they don’t exercise, according to a 2013 poll conducted by the British Chiropractic Association. The poll blamed young people’s sedentary lifestyles that involve long bouts of sitting at desks while working.

Even though little research has investigated the link between not exercising and back pain, sedentary living is believed to contribute to back pain, according to experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Lack of exercise leads to inflexibility and weak back muscles that leave the spine unsupported. It also can result in weight gain, another risk factor.

3. Extra weight

On the other hand, studies have clearly linked obesity to back pain. A 2013 study conducted by Norwegian researchers found that a person’s risk for low back pain increased as body mass index (BMI) increased.

Another study, completed at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University, found that obese patients suffered a greater risk of infection and less improvement after surgery for degenerative spine issues. The study also found that obese patients didn’t experience as much benefit from non-surgical treatment as patients of normal body weight.

4. Smoking

People who smoke experience a greater risk of back pain, a University of Rochester analysis found. Researchers followed 5,300 spinal disorder patients for eight months and found that smokers reported more pain than non-smokers or former smokers. The good news is people who quit smoking during treatment quickly experienced a drop in pain.

5. Stress, depression, and anger

Research is just beginning to unravel the mysterious mind/body connection, but several studies have connected adverse psychological states to back pain.

People under stress, for example, may tighten their back muscles, which can lead to pain, according to WebMD. A study by Canadian researchers found that people suffering from depression are four times more likely to report back pain than people who are not depressed. Another study, published in the Journal of Pain, linked anger and an inability to forgive to greater low back pain in chronic sufferers.

Do you have any risk factors for back pain? 

Image by Stephanie Klocke via Flickr


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