10 bad habits that may be causing you back pain

Did you know that lower back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide? How about that Americans spend more than $50 billion each year on treating back pain?

Back pain is frustrating. Thankfully, simple modifications in your daily life can often help alleviate it. Though nothing can replace a doctor visit and a professional diagnosis, you may find relief by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

  1. Sitting too long. Sitting puts extra pressure on your spine – more than 40 percent more pressure than standing, in fact. Make sure your work space is set up to promote good posture throughout the day, and be sure to take multiple breaks to stand up, stretch and walk around.
  2. Driving with poor posture. If you drive for long periods of time in a slouched position, you’re adding extra stress to your back on top of the already increased pressure from sitting. Make sure you are seated close to the steering wheel so you don’t have to reach for it, and keep your seat at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Not exercising. It’s no secret that regular exercise has a number of benefits, and one of those benefits is a healthy back. Strengthening your core, back and glutes - and maintaining a healthy weight - are excellent ways to ward off back pain and stay fit for life’s various activities.
  4. Carrying a heavy bag. The heavier your bag is, the more your body has to compensate for the weight. Try lightening the load if you’re experiencing back pain and you may just experience quick relief. According to the American Chiropractic Association, it’s best to carry a bag that weighs no more than 10 percent of your body weight.
  5. Maintaining a poor diet. Like exercise, your diet plays a big role not only in your weight and your cardiovascular health, but in your back health as well. According to the Cleveland Clinic, many “unhealthy” foods – such as highly processed prepared foods, fried foods, and sugary drinks and snacks - have inflammatory properties, which can trigger lower back pain.
  6. Sleeping on an old mattress. If your mattress is old, it could be sagging in the middle and affecting the natural curve of your spine as you sleep. Make sure you have a mattress that is no older than 10 years and still retains a flat, firm shape.
  7. Wearing high heels. High heels curve your lower back in and tilt your hips forward, creating a posture problem called anterior pelvic tilt. This tilt can cause back pain as well as numerous imbalances throughout your lower body. While you don’t have to avoid wearing heels entirely, it’s best to avoid walking long distances in them.
  8. Piling on the stress. When we’re stressed, our bodies tense up - especially the muscles in our backs and necks. Consistent tightness from constant stress can cause pain over time.
  9. Watching too much TV. The average American family spends several hours in front of the TV per day, which could be a major cause of back pain. Not only are you sitting for long periods of time and carving into exercise time while binge watching the latest hit show, you’re likely also sitting with poor posture. Lying reclined in bed or hunched over on a soft couch, for example, are both common leisurely positions that put your back in an unnatural and harmful curve.
  10. Ignoring back pain. Pretending your pain isn’t there in hopes it will go away on its own will likely only make it worse. You may tense up throughout the day without realizing it, or continue whatever other harmful habits that caused it in the first place. If you experience back pain for a prolonged period of time and you’ve addressed all the above contributors, it may be time to see an orthopaedist.

Personal Ergonomics Tips

Sitting and driving

At a desk: 

  • Align your spine by keeping your buttocks against the back of the seat.
  • ​Use ergonomic chairs and lumbar rolls to keep your spine supported.
  • Keep your feet fl at and supported.

Computer/office setup:

  • Your computer monitor should be centered, not caddy cornered or off to the side. The top of the screen should be slightly below eye level.
  • Keep frequently used items, such as the mouse and keyboard, in easy reach.
  • Do not wear bifocal or progressive glasses.
  • Use a headset if you are on the phone for more than 40 percent of the day.

In the car:

  •  Adjust your seat so that you don’t have to reach for either the steering wheel or pedals.
  • On long drives, stop periodically to get out of the car, stretch and move around. 


  • Choose a mattress and pillow that provide support. Your mattress should be firm so that you don’t sink into it.
  • When lying on your back, keep your knees slightly bent with a pillow underneath them for support.
  • When on your side, avoid the fetal position. Use a pillow between your knees to maintain good pelvic and lumbar alignment.


  • Bring your work and your desk up to you. Do not bend or look down for prolonged periods of time.
  • Maintain a wide base of support by keeping your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Alternate positions. Keep one foot on an elevated surface, then switch legs.
  • Sit when available to break up the stress and alternate posture.
  • Wear supportive and cushioned footwear to decrease the stresses of prolonged standing. 

Pushing, pulling and carrying

  • Use something to assist you, such as a cart, whenever possible.
  • Use the strength in your legs to move you forward or backward. Do not push, pull or carry with your back.
  • ​Maintain the natural curves of your spine at all times. Avoid rounding or hyperextending your back.

Proper lifting and bending 

  • Bring or slide the object close to your body before lifting.
  • Keep your abdominals tight and maintain the natural curve in your back.
  • Use your legs to lift by pushing the floor away from you. Never lift with your back!
  • Keep your shoulders and hips squared to your target. 

Activities around the house 

  • Always maintain a safe, clean work area.
  • Whether you’re cleaning or gardening, use the right tool for the job.
  • Seek out ergonomically designed equipment (e.g., a curved snow shovel).
  • Alternate and change positions regularly.
  • Rest regularly, especially when bending repeatedly.

Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute

The Orthopaedic Institute offers a full range of services — including evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitative care — for illnesses and injuries affecting your bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Take control of your health

It might be time to see a doctor if back pain is affecting your daily life.