Back Pain: 4 Environmental Risk Factors You Can Modify

If you want lower your risk of back pain in the future, you should address these four risk factors now.

back pain

Long hours in a single position—particularly sitting or driving—will exert unnecessary pressure on your back and put you at risk for injuries.

© Monika Wisniewska |

If you have any of the following environmental risk factors, the good news is that by altering them, you may be able to lower your risk of back pain in the future.


Most people relate smoking to heart and lung problems, but it also puts you at risk for back pain. Smoking damages the blood vessels responsible for bringing adequate blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients to the spine. Nicotine is also toxic to discs and makes the spinal structure less flexible, less shock-absorbent, and more prone to injury.

Plus, people who smoke are also less likely to have a healthy diet and more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle with traits that can contribute to back pain.


Both the couch potato and the overzealous weekend warrior can develop back pain.

Long hours in a single position—particularly sitting or driving—will exert unnecessary pressure on your back and put you at risk for injuries. Movement is essential for spine health and for relieving pressure on joints and tissues. You also may want to check your posture. By itself, poor posture won’t cause back pain, but it can exacerbate existing injuries.

The other extreme isn’t good, either. Too much physical exertion or frequent repetitive movements can put you at risk for back pain. Lifting heavy objects, pulling or pushing heavy objects, and bending or twisting motions are the most common movements that result in back pain. People who are exposed to prolonged periods of vibration during their work or hobbies also can develop back pain over time.

Diet and Exercise

Obesity is an important risk factor for back pain. Being overweight—or gaining a significant amount of weight quickly—can strain your back tissues more than necessary. A healthy diet and regular exercise have far-reaching positive effects—not only for cardiovascular health but for energy, sleep, mood, joint health, and pain levels.

A sedentary lifestyle increases your likelihood for back pain and your risk for developing pain that worsens over time. Being physically active is crucial to recovering from back pain. Workout aficionados also have to be careful not to lift heavy weights too suddenly or with poor form since they can put themselves at higher risk for disc injuries.

Consider how regularly you exercise. People who suddenly ramp up their physical activity levels after a week of sitting in the office are more likely to strain back muscles and tendons. Instead, make regular activity—low-impact aerobic exercise, for example—part of your routine. It has been shown to keep your discs healthy.


Emotional health has a major influence on physical health. Stress has been shown to affect your body in a number of ways, increasing muscle tension, for example. Psychological distress also increases your chances of chronic back pain in both severity and sensitivity.

Although not completely understood, imbalances in chemical neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine may affect the perception of pain. Individuals with depression and anxiety report higher sensitivity to pain.

Sleep deprivation and other emotional troubles are associated with more severe back pain. Adults with back pain are more likely to be in poor health and experience serious psychological distress than those without back pain.

For more information in on back pain causes and remedies, purchase Low Back Pain at

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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