9 Secret Reasons You Might Have Back Pain

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021

Prone to back pain? Experts share common but surprising reasons for back pain and ways to make your back stop hurting.

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You’re stressed out

“Emotional outlook is a big predictor of back pain,” says Todd Sinett, a New York City-based chiropractor and author of 3 Weeks To A Better Back. Mental distress manifests itself physiologically, says Sinett. “If you’re uptight for a long period of time, that muscle tension can lead to aches and spasms,” he says. Common areas for stress-triggered back pain include the neck and shoulder region and lower back. Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing (inhale slowly for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four), a walk, or yoga. (In fact, here are some yoga poses for lower back pain you can try.)

A bunch of high-heeled shoes of all kinds

Your heels are too high

Your fashionable shoe collection might be bothering your back. “High heels throw off your center of gravity,” says William Suggs, a certified personal trainer and licensed sports nutritionist in New York City. Heels make you lean forward to walk, put extra pressure on the feet, and cause you to not fully extend the calf. This puts more strain and stress on the lower back, which can cause pain, he says. “If you must wear heels for work, invest in a nice pair of walking shoes for the commute and change at the office,” says Suggs. (Here’s what else can cause lower back pain in women.)

soda with straw

You’re not eating the right kind of food

A 2014 study in the Asian Spine Journal found that about 31 percent of women and 25 percent of men who suffered from back pain also had gastrointestinal complaints, such as abdominal pain or food intolerance. The link between nutrition and back pain may be about inflammation; foods high in fat and sugar trigger inflammation throughout the body, including the lower back. When Dr. Sinett’s father injured his back, he saw an improvement in back pain symptoms when he cut back on sugar and caffeine. Aim to eat whole foods instead of processed ones whenever possible. “Always have a protein like lean meat or beans, a good whole grain like brown rice, and vegetables,” Suggs says. (Check out these massagers for lower back pain relief.)

person trying to button tight pants

Your pants are too tight

Skinny jeans could be doing a number on your back. A study by the British Chiropractic Association found that 73 percent of women suffered back pain due to their wardrobe. Skinny jeans, high heels, and a big bag were among the top culprits. For clothes that are snug but not skintight, look for fabrics with a bit of stretch to them. Make sure you can easily slip a finger under the waistband. (You can also find relief with one of these expert-recommended products for lower back pain.)

young black man with beard sitting at computer

You sit on your duff all day

“Inactivity is one of the most detrimental things you can do to your body,” says Suggs. “Your muscles get used to being in that seated position, so they tighten up.” To combat sitting-induced muscle stiffness and tightness, stretch your lower posterior muscles (Achilles, calves, hamstrings, and glutes) when you wake up. “When those start to tighten then your lower back starts to feel the brunt of the pain,” says Suggs. He also suggests a quick stretch midday and before bed. “It’s also a good idea to get up and walk around a few times throughout the day, and to make sure your back is supported and not slouched when you are seated, says Suggs. Walk yourself through these stretches for lower back pain to get rid of the tightness and consider buying an office chair for back pain relief.

unhappy white man with beard smoking with head in hand
Paolo Cipriani/iStock

You still smoke

Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain, according to a study in Cureus. Back pain was lowest in those who never smoked, and increased as the amount of smoking increased, with current smokers at the highest rates of back pain. Here are the surprising reasons your lower back pain treatment isn’t working.

fit man and woman doing plank together

You’ve been skipping ab workouts

A strong core could combat an achy back. “If your abs are weak, your lower back has to work harder, which can lead to back pain,” says Suggs. Try plank, superman, or bird dog exercises, which engage your erector spinae, the muscle that keeps your spine erect and helps maintain correct posture, he says. Pay attention to your midsection throughout the day. “Your core should never be relaxed, whether you’re sitting or walking; that’s when you put yourself at risk for developing pain,” says Suggs. While you’re at it, incorporate these exercises for lower back pain to reduce and prevent future pain.

man in office hands on hips and stretching

Your hips are uneven

Many people have no idea that their hips are uneven, which means one side of your pelvis is slightly higher than the other, says Suggs. The imbalance can cause lower back pain in your day-to-day life, and often becomes especially apparent while you work out. “It affects how your body responds to certain moves and will be different for everyone,” he says. For example, if your left hip is higher and you do a lunge on the left side, you may feel that hip muscle pull tighter. If you notice persistent back pain during a workout, Suggs suggests seeing your doctor before trying to cure yourself. “Your doctor can evaluate your whole body and detect potential imbalances,” he says.

female healthcare working explaining prescription to patient

You have a urinary tract infection

Pain in the lower and upper back or sharp pains in the flank (side) can be a sign that a urinary tract infection has spread to the kidneys. If you’ve noticed other classic UTI symptoms like increased urge to urinate or pain during urination, see a doctor immediately for treatment. Here are some other potential causes of your sharp lower back pain.