Back pain is no joke, and for the 31 million of you suffering from back pain at this very moment, you've probably spent countless hours wondering, “why me?” While some reasons may be obvious – car accident, arthritis and obesity – we have found five less obvious reasons why you may be experiencing back pain.

Years of Lugging a Heavy Purse

For all the women readers, you know your purse is your home away from home. You carry everything in there, from laptop computers to flip flops and curling irons. Purses have become a permanent residence for the “just in case” miscellanea, but did you know the average purse weighs 6.5 pounds? That’s an increase of nearly 40% in the last 5 years. According to Dr. Martin Lanoff, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, “when you carry something heavy every day, the accumulated stress can lead to significant injuries that require medical attention.” But what’s a busy woman to do? Here are two easy tips to avoid injury:

  1. Change sides: Instead of always carrying your purse on the same shoulder, switch sides every few minutes or so to ease tension.
  2. Go diagonal: Carrying your purse across your body allows your core to help carry some of the load, instead of only your shoulders.

Sleeping on the Wrong Mattress

Face it – you spend a third of your life sleeping, or 25 years out of the average life span. That’s a significant amount of time doing any one thing! The fact is that sleeping on the wrong surface can be detrimental to your neck and back. Memory Foam Mattresses are the hottest selling mattresses in the world, and for a good reason. Memory foam mattresses support your entire body in ways that an innerspring mattress simply cannot. By eliminating the hard pressure of coils, a memory foam mattress offers comforting support, allowing your body to be fully cradled in the nooks and cranny’s that otherwise cause pressure buildup on an innerspring bed.  Investing in a new memory foam mattress today can mean less neck and back pain for many years to come.

Smoking

You probably never considered a possible link between smoking and back pain, did you? You’re not alone. John Hopkins University conducted a study in which they followed almost 1,400 physicians over a 50 year period. The subjects regularly answered questionnaires and their medical records were documented over the duration. The researchers found that smoking history, along with hypertension, were significantly associated with the development of lower back pain. Dr. Nicholas U. Ahn, Chief Resident from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at John Hopkins Hospital and the co-author of the study, explained that “to prove a causative association from a long-term prospective study is very powerful because one can show that the cause occurred before the effect as opposed to the other way around.” And another reason to call it quits!

Sitting at Your Desk

Perhaps the least avoidable of the causes, sitting in your desk chair, day after day, is no good for your neck and back. Sitting over an extended period of time is what’s known as a static position, which adds tremendous pressure to the muscles, ligaments and disks of your spinal column. “One of the negative effects of sitting is that it puts the spine in a flexed position and this may cause your back muscles to stop working efficiently, putting your back at risk of injury,” says Brown University School of Medicine professor Donald R. Murphy.  Since you can’t avoid sitting at your desk altogether, here are two easy tips to help relieve the pressure:

  1. Core strength: exercises that strength your core muscles (not just your abdominals but your back muscles as well) can help your body deal with the pressure of sitting in a chair all day.  Pilates and yoga are terrific for core strength, but if time is of the essence, doing some sit-ups in the evening at home is great as well.
  2. Walk it out: “Walking around for a few seconds and doing a few standing back bends is enough to offset the negative effects of sitting,” says Murphy. Take the long route to the bathroom, or step outside to make a phone call. Either way, try and get some extra steps into your day.

High Heels

Ladies, ladies, ladies: what will it take for us to take a break from the high heels? We know they make you feel taller, more attractive, and they are more fun to buy than flats, but walking in high heels can also make your back feel sore.  Sports physiotherapist Chris Hirons explains that “heels cause problems because they force your foot forward, altering the angle of your body so your weight isn't evenly distributed over the spine, which can trigger pain from your knees all the way up to your back.” Think you can relate? 73% of women admit to having some shoe-related pain. Instead of wearing high heels 5 days a week to work, try adding a pair of ballet flats into the mix once or twice a week. Or if heels at the office are a must, try swapping the heels for a cute pair of sneakers next time you go out to dinner. Who knows, you may end up preferring the casual look!