Do you have reoccurring back pain? If you answered “YES,” you’re not alone. In fact, it’s one of the most common patient concerns I see in my practice. Although everybody is quite different, I’d like to share 3 things you do every day that could be contributing to your back pain and how you can correct it.

#1 Sleep: How you sleep can either greatly provoke or reduce back pain. Current studies recommend we get between 7-10 of sleep per night; imagine if you are not sleeping in a favorable position, on an appropriate bed, or with an adequate pillow for that extended amount of time.

Let’s talk sleep positions. First and foremost, you should be sleeping on your back or side. If you are a side-sleeper, place a pillow between your knees. This will aid in proper alignment of the pelvis and hips while preventing you from rolling onto your stomach (a huge no.) If you sleep on your back, place the pillow under your knees. This slight bend in the knees will relax the back and leg muscles and put the pelvis in a more ergonomically correct position.

The right type of bed also plays a critical role in achieving proper, restful sleep. A bed should be firm so as to properly support the spine. Beds that are too soft feel great when you first lay down, but they offer little to no support, resulting in your back contorting to the mattress. Using a mattress topper on a firm bed can provide relief at your pressure points (ie. hips and shoulders), while still offering a firm base for your spine.

Pillows are the hardest part of the sleep equation. You could theoretically use a different pillow type for each sleeping position. Back sleeping pillows should support the curvature of the neck without pushing the had too far up towards the ceiling. Side-sleeping pillows should support proper alignment of the spine without allowing the neck to hang too low towards the bed or pushed too high towards the ceiling.

#2 Sitting. Let me start by saying this, YOU SIT TOO MUCH! We all do…but if you must sit, and I know you must, let’s at least do it better. Your chair should provide adequate lumbar support. It should allow your knees to be at least parallel or lower, than your hips. If you are at a computer, make sure the center of the monitor is at the same level as the bridge of your nose. If you utilize multiple screens, try to have them as close together as possible; this keeps you from constantly turning your head side to side. Lastly, your keyboard should be at a height that allows your arms to be relaxed without causing you to slouch to reach it.

#3 Breathing. YES, even the way you breathe could be contributing to your pain. Our muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves…every part of the body is dependent on oxygen. If we deprive tissue of oxygen it does not respond kindly, resulting in spasms, degenerative conditions, and pain. In order to avoid these conditions, we want to maximize our oxygen intake. Proper breathing comes from the abdomen and diaphragm, NOT the ribs and neck. We call this belly breathing. Belly breathing begins with deeply inhaling through the nose and focuses on the belly pushing out as the diaphragm drops down. This pressure causes the lungs to fill and the ribs to expand. The ribs expanding is a result of the lungs filling, not a primary trigger to fill the lungs. If your shoulders rise and fall during normal respiration, you are breathing with what are called an accessory or secondary muscles. This leads to hypoxia (decreased oxygen levels) and overactive muscles in the neck. The long-term effects of this type of breathing include headaches, neck pain and (you guessed it) back pain.

The way we treat our bodies will either reflect through reoccurring pain or healthy, pain-free living. Being aware of our negative habits and implementing good techniques to our day to day activities like sleeping, sitting, and breathing can greatly reduce back pain.

Knowledge is power only if we do something with it. Look at your lifestyle and compare it to what you just read. Are there changes you can make to improve your quality of life? If so, do not hesitate, make them now. Come in and let us help. Adjustments can get you on the road to a pain-free life and can make the changes more rewarding.

Yours in health,
Dr. David Futral