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Top 12 causes of back pain (and how to treat them)

by Dr Lillie Lines

Last updated June 15, 2023

It is estimated that 4 out of 5 Australians will experience back pain at some point in their lives.1Source: HealthDirect

If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. But what you may not know is what is causing your pain.

The good news is that back pain rarely results from significant damage to the spine. Instead, it usually results from issues with the surrounding muscles, ligaments, joints, or spinal discs which can often be easily treated and resolved.

Our team has helped Sunshine Coast locals break free from back pain for the last 34 years. In this blog post, we will explore the top causes of back pain and offer you insights on how to manage them.

Let’s crack on.

1. Poor Posture

There are many situations where it's easy to have bad posture.

For example, when sitting at a desk.

To sit at your desk correctly, keep your back straight and your feet flat on the ground. Try to keep your knees and hips level (you may need a footrest for that). Support your lower back against the back of your chair, and keep your back and neck as straight as possible rather than hunching forward. Make sure you get up and move around regularly.

Or when you’re driving.

To drive safely, have your seat upright to support your back and shoulders. Set up your headrest in a comfortable position. Adjust the steering wheel so it’s level with your chest. Lastly, keep your arms bent and your thumbs on the rim of the steering wheel at all times.

In any physically challenging situation, there is a smart ergonomic option that can help alleviate strain on your spine and surrounding muscles.

2. Sitting for Prolonged Periods

Even if you’re sitting correctly, long periods of sitting can place significant stress on your back, leading to muscle imbalances, decreased flexibility, and increased risk of pain.

To combat this, take regular breaks to stretch and engage in physical activity throughout the day.

Another thing you can do is to use an ergonomic cushion to better support your spine.

3. Strained Muscles, Ligaments, or Joints

Did you know that for most people, back pain is the result of strained muscles, ligaments, or joints rather than a specific underlying condition? These strains are usually caused by poor body mechanics, sudden movements, or excessive effort.

One of the most common injuries we see in the clinic is a sprain or dysfunction of the SIJ (sacroiliac joint). It often affects pregnant women, but we also see a lot of tradespeople with this injury.

To reduce the risk of sprains and strains and promote a healthier back, incorporate regular stretching and strengthening exercises into your routine.

We often recommend swimming to our patients, as it is a lot kinder to the joints than other sports, along with gentle walking on grass for good bone health and to prevent osteoporosis.

For fast relief and advice, our chiropractors can provide specific adjustments and tailored stretches to get you back to work and play sooner.

4. Weak Core Muscles

Your core muscles (the central part of your body which includes your pelvis, lower back, hips and stomach) play a crucial role in stabilising your spine. If these muscles are too weak, they can encourage a forward-leaning posture which can contribute to back pain.

You may have a weak core if:

  • You have had an injury to that area
  • You have had surgery on your abdomen
  • You are or have been pregnant

To prevent and alleviate back pain caused by weak core muscles, strengthen your core with targeted exercises instructed by your chiropractor.

5. Lack of Physical Activity

Low physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to muscle weakness, stiffness, and reduced flexibility, all of which increase your chances of experiencing back pain.

To keep your spine healthy, move and exercise regularly. Why not go for a walk in your local park? Or if you have a furry friend, let them take you out a few times a day.

6. Unhealthy Weight

Carrying excess weight increases your risk of back pain because it places additional strain on your back and spine. More specifically, it puts added pressure on your disks and nerves and can lead to strains and sprains.

What’s more, research has shown that the problem isn’t just mechanical. Excess body fat also produces chemicals that contribute to joint damage.

To maintain a healthy weight and alleviate stress on your spine, follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly. If you need further advice in this area, ask your GP to put you in touch with a qualified dietitian.

7. Older Age

As we age, the natural degeneration of our spinal discs, loss of muscle mass, and reduced bone density can contribute to back pain. Furthermore, people who don’t regularly walk, bike and move their bodies have a higher risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia.

In this context too, engaging in regular physical activity and adopting healthy lifestyle habits are recommended to help mitigate age-related back pain.

8. Repetitive or Heavy Lifting

Improper lifting techniques can result in strained muscles and spinal misalignment, leading to back pain.

If you have to lift heavy objects, make sure to use your legs rather than your back and keep the object closer to you rather than away.

Additionally, you may experience discomfort or injury if you carry a heavy backpack (which is a common cause of back pain in children) or lift objects beyond your capacity. This can happen to you even if you use your muscles appropriately.

If that’s your case, try to lighten your backpack and use tools to make the lifting easier on your back.

9. Sleeping Position

Sleeping in an unsupportive position or on an inadequate mattress can cause or aggravate back pain.

To maximise spinal alignment and alleviate discomfort, sleep on your side or back rather than your stomach (as it can cause both neck and back pain) and opt for a medium to firm mattress.

When it comes to pillows, we recommend using an ergonomic pillow to better support your neck. If you’re a side sleeper, sleeping with a pillow between your knees will improve your posture and take pressure off your lower back.

10. Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the body goes through many changes. It can gain weight and its centre of gravity can shift. This is because, as your bump grows, your centre of gravity moves further forward. These changes can strain your back and cause pain.

If that is your case, try implementing strategies such as proper posture, gentle exercises, and utilising supportive pillows.

For more insights, read our article about managing pregnancy related back pain.

11. Constipation

Constipation can cause back pain, especially in babies. The pain occurs when retained faecal matter presses on the nerves in the lower back, called the sacral nerves.

This type of back pain is typically reported as a dull, aching type of discomfort.

If you are experiencing back pain due to constipation, ensure regular bowel movements and address any constipation issues. Or if your baby is in pain due to constipation, specific gentle chiropractic adjustments can help them feel better.

12. Sports

Practicing certain sports, particularly high-impact activities like running, weight lifting or gymnastics, can place a lot of stress on your back and lead to pain.

To lower the risk of back pain, make sure you warm up, stretch, and use appropriate protective equipment whenever you can.

If you need instant relief, a chiropractor can provide adjustments specific to your situation.

Other Causes of Back Pain


Injuries such as whiplash, resulting from sudden acceleration-deceleration forces applied to the neck (e.g. in a car accident) can cause significant back pain. If you experience whiplash or feel that you’re injured, you should see your chiropractor who will provide diagnosis and advice.

Psychological Conditions

Psychological factors, including depression and anxiety, can increase the risk of experiencing back pain. If this is your case, consider solutions like practicing meditation, yoga or other mindfulness activities, or talk to a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist.


Smokers have a higher incidence of back pain, potentially due to increased coughing leading to herniated disks. Smoking also impairs blood flow to the spine and can contribute to the development of osteoporosis, which increases the risk of back pain.

If you need help to quit smoking, read these tips from the Australian government.


On top of all the causes mentioned above, there are various spinal disorders that can cause or contribute to back pain. This includes sciatica, ankylosing spondylitis, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, kyphosis, spinal stenosis and scoliosis.

If you think you have a disorder causing you back pain, consult your chiropractor who will help diagnosing and treating your condition.

The Do's and Don’ts of Back Pain

👍 Do

  • Stay active and continue with your daily activities to prevent further stiffness
  • Take anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen to alleviate pain and inflammation
  • Apply ice packs to reduce pain and swelling on hot and irritated joints and discs
  • Get checked out by one of our chiropractors to receive personalised adjustments and advice that will help relieve your pain faster
  • Engage in exercises and stretches specifically designed for back pain to improve flexibility and strengthen supporting muscles (your chiropractor can tailor these specifically for you)
  • Consult your GP for further investigation if your pain persists

👎 Don't

  • Avoid laying in bed for long periods of time, as it can lead to muscle weakness, overall stiffness and can actually make your back pain worse
  • Don’t use heat to heal your injury as it will make things worse, instead apply ice packs to cool down the inflammation
  • Don’t practice exercises that are not specifically appropriate for back pain


As we’ve seen, the causes of back pain are rarely severe. By understanding what is causing us back pain, we can manage our immediate discomfort and take steps to reduce further pain.

We can prevent or reduce back pain by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and good posture, lifting items safely and reducing stress and muscle tension.

Your back pain may resolve without the need to see a doctor. However, if your pain is severe, persists for a prolonged period, interferes with your ability to work or take part in enjoyable activities, affects your daily routines, or worsens over time you should see a healthcare professional.

Chiropractors can help alleviate your pain with specific adjustments and personalised advice.

Are you in pain? Our team of experienced chiropractors are available by appointment in Maroochydore and Coolum Beach from Monday to Saturday. Book an appointment today.


What are the most common causes of back pain?

  • Poor posture
  • Sitting for prolonged periods
  • Strained muscles, ligaments, or joints
  • Weak core muscles
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy weight
  • Older age
  • Repetitive or heavy lifting
  • Sleeping position
  • Pregnancy
  • Constipation
  • Sports
  • Dr Lillie Lines

    Dr Lillie is a passionate Chiropractor and Myotherapist enthusiastic about all aspects of natural healing, who enjoys helping her patients achieve their goals of optimal health and wellbeing. She practices at Rasura Chiropractic Centres in Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast.

    View all posts

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