10 Surprising Causes of Back Pain

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

Many of us have hurt our backs by lifting heavy things, falling, or taking a bad step on stairs or ladders. But experts say there are some everyday back-pain triggers that many people aren’t even aware of. In this slideshow, we’ll take a look at some unexpected causes of back pain.

Man putting wallet in back pocket.
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Wallets

Sciatica, a pain that radiates from the buttock downward along the sciatic nerve, has been known to doctors for a very long time according to the New England Journal of Medicine. There are many causes of sciatica. One cause can be compression of the sciatic nerve caused by sitting on an overstuffed wallet. In at least one study, sitting with a wallet in the back pocket caused an incorrect posture in over half of the participants.

Couch causing back pain.
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Couches

Overexertion can hurt your back, but sitting still for long periods of time can also trigger back pain. The body likes to be in motion, so sitting still for extended periods can lead to stiffness and aches.

Smiling woman on cell phone.
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Cell phones

Americans use over more than two trillion minutes of wireless each year, according to the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry. Cell phone use can cause you to arch your neck and hold your body in an uncomfortable posture. Long periods of time in an awkward position holding your cell phone can lead to back pain.

Man with sore back after long drive.
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Driving

Just as sitting on the couch for extended periods can lead to back pain, so can driving long distances. Not only are you sitting, but you are often holding yourself in the same position, without moving your arms or legs in any significant way. If your car has cruise control, try using this feature. It can at least allow you to shift your sitting position and stretch your legs.

Heavy laptop bag on female commuter biking to work.
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Computer bags and back packs

Adults and children are often required to carry computer bags and backpacks throughout their day. According to the Spine Health Institute, the concern that carrying this extra weight may cause back pain is real. Heavy backpacks and computer bags are believed to increase lumbar disk compression, lumbar curvature, and muscle fatigue, all of which can lead to back pain.

People in flip flops and sandals crossing street.
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Flip flops and sandals

Light shoes such as flip-flops and sandals may make a great fashion statement, but they can be very hard on your back. Especially if you work on your feet all day, it is a good idea to wear shoes that have arch support and offer stability for your feet, hips, and back.

Close up on female hand smoking cigarette.
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Smoking

Smoking is perhaps one of the most surprising causes of back pain. The negative health implications of smoking are many and include chronic pain. Smokers report greater pain intensity and a greater number of painful sites compared to nonsmokers. We know that smoking reduces the flow of oxygen to working muscles and can therefore make them weaker and more painful.

Obesity can be a major contributor to back pain.
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Obesity

In a meta-analysis conducted of 33 studies, being overweight and obese was associated with increased prevalence of low back pain. Our spine is designed to support our body’s weight. When we are carrying extra weight, the spine is sometimes unable handle the burden, which can cause the back to be compromised and damaged.

Chronic skin conditions can contribute to back pain.
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Chronic illness

Sometimes a seemingly unrelated condition, such as a skin disorder, can also cause back pain. For example, approximately 40 percent of those who are living with psoriatic arthritis are also living with back pain. Your spine can be impacted by any disorder that causes inflammation throughout your body.

Woman working on core strength to help back pain.
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Abdominal weakness

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not doing any physical activity can be bad for you no matter what your age or health condition. The muscles around your abdomen and along the side of your body — often referred to as your core — can help to support your spine throughout the day. If these muscles are weak, there is less support for your back, which could lead to back pain.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.