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7 Surprising Causes of Back Pain 

Which of these 7 surprising causes of back pain will help you solve your musculoskeletal mystery? Maybe you’ve noticed that your customary floor sweeping or car washing chores have become more strenuous lately. What used to be a simple grocery bag or baby lift may cause a twinge, throb or tingle. 

Your initial reaction may be to wonder whether it’s your posture, or to suspect the most common conditions associated with back pain: muscle sprains, herniated discs, sciatica, scoliosis, neuropathy or fibromyalgia. 

Before jumping to more serious conclusions, screen yourself for these 7 surprising causes of back pain and learn how to find relief. 

Does Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

Our bodies are about 60 percent water. You probably know from experience that not drinking enough water can make you weak and light-headed. It can even lower your blood pressure. But how does dehydration cause back pain?  

Snuggled between the vertebrae that make up your spine are little jelly-like shock absorber discs that are close to 75% water. Their job is to separate your interlocking bones while providing cushioning and mobility to your spine.  

Intervertebral discs have three parts: the inner, nucleus pulposus (NP), the outer, annulus (AF) and the cartilage endplates that anchor them to your vertebrae.  

Healthy intervertebral discs — your spine’s shock absorbers

If you become dehydrated, the inner water-filled part of the disc can shift its stress to the outer part of the disc (nucleus pulposus), which can cause damage, or even tears.   When a dehydrated disc collapses it can put pressure on the sensitive nerves exiting your spinal column. The more water your discs lose the less able they are to hold the weight of your body, and the more back pain you feel. 

Is Lack of Sleep One of the 7 Surprising Causes of Back Pain?

Sleep Cycle

One of 7 surprising causes of back pain: lack of restorative sleep

Restorative sleep flushes out lactic acid buildup and powers the natural brain repair that drives optimal function, immune response, alertness, positive mood and enhanced sex drive. So can lack of sleep cause back pain? Decades of research has demonstrated that it can — and that sleep deprivation heightens our sensitivity to pain.  

The journal Nature found that long-term poor sleep quality is associated with increased risk of chronic back pain and back-related disability. That’s because restorative sleep help refill our intervertebral discs with the water they need for the day ahead.  

Why Proper Sleep Becomes Even More Important as We Age

As we age, our discs become drier and we need even more nightly replenishment and not getting it can cause degenerative disc disease with its intense back pain and tingly, buzzing sensation in arms and hands. 

By the end of each day, we become ¼ to a ½ inch shorter than when we woke, because the water has slowly released from the spinal discs. They try to hydrate throughout the day, but it’s more difficult in an upright position. Although movement does hydrate them somewhat during the day sleeping rehydrates them fully — and revives our natural height. 

The lack of proper mattress and pillow support negatively affects your posture, which can cause stress on your spine and ligaments. The age of your mattress isn’t as important as the quality — you get what you pay for.  

Late night food and caffeine intake as well as too much light may also be disrupting your sleep. Our eyelids are not designed to filter out light, so they recognize even the tiniest bit of it in the bedroom. Because the receptors in the back of our retinas pick up light even when our eyes are closed, the glow of a cellphone, cable box, USB charger, nightlight or humidifier can disrupt them. This causes our heart rate to increase and our sleep quality to decrease. 

Can Vitamin D Deficiency Cause Back Pain? 

Lower back pain may be a symptom of inadequate levels of vitamin D — which helps maintain bone density by improving your body’s absorption of calcium. Your vitamin D levels are directly correlated with your connective tissue integrity. Low levels can make your joints unstable, while optimal levels of vitamin D help strengthen bones, protecting against back pain and disabling conditions like osteoarthritis. 

Extensive research published in International Association for the Study of Pain found that patients with the most severe back pain had the lowest levels of vitamin D. Research in the journal Menopause found that among women considering spine surgery, those with severe vitamin D deficiency had more severe disc degeneration and back pain.  Getting the age and body type appropriate amount of nutrients into your diet is just as critical as exercise to reaching your wellness goals.

Can Smoking Cause Back Pain?   

According to a robust study published in The Spine Journal smoking nicotine not only damages spinal tissue, it can also weaken bones and intensify back pain. The most common reason spinal fusion surgery patients don’t heal is because they are smokers (which is also why many insurance companies no longer cover back surgery for smokers). 

Research also suggests that smoking alters the brain’s response to back pain, decreasing people’s resilience to it. Studies published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, found that smokers are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop chronic back pain. Although pain meds helped study participants manage their pain, these substances could not change the brain’s response to it. 

Can Stress Cause Back Pain?

It’s common knowledge that stress exacerbates most health conditions. And we usually carry our stress in the neck and shoulder area where it can set off an inflammatory response, driving the pain farther down the back and hips. 

If you have a torn or herniated disc but aren’t yet experiencing symptoms, chronic stress can function as the “on” switch for the release of inflammatory molecules throughout your body, opening the floodgates for pain. 

Movement — of any kind — is critical for fending off stress, and therefore pain. If you’re less active, you may have pain, which can make you even more stressed out.  A long walk, a quick run, biking, strength training, stretching or practicing yoga can help release endorphins and diminish the pain regularly. 

Can Legs Of Different Lengths Cause Back Pain? 

One Leg Longer Than the Other Test, Step 4

One of 7 surprising causes of back pain: leg length discrepancy

About 1 in 3 of us have leg length discrepancy — a misalignment in the pelvis, hip, knee, ankle, or foot that causes one leg to appear slightly shorter than the other. This is most often a result of how we use our body, altering the normal biomechanics of walking or standing. 

The muscles we overuse every day tend to become chronically tight because we adopt an imbalanced movement pattern that weakens them, causing poor joint mechanics, abnormal spine curvature and misalignment.  

When one part shifts out of alignment, the rest of your body adjusts to balance you out. Leaning constantly on one hip, for example, shifts other body parts and joints of alignment. The more discrepancy, the more pain and the more unbalanced our gait can become. Addressing your misaligned joints is critical to alleviating your back pain. 

Can A Weak Core Cause Lower Back Pain?  

Your torso is stabilized by core muscles which work together to stabilize your spine. If your core is weak you’re likely overworking other muscles, causing back pain and making you more prone to injury (even during simple movements). 

Weak abdominal muscles encourage you to lean forward, decreasing your stability  during spinal movement. Since abdominals work in conjunction with back muscles, simple bending, lifting or reaching could make you more prone to back pain. 

Want to get in touch with your core?  

Imagine that there’s a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you upward. Now tighten your abdominal muscles, trying not to move your pelvis, ribs or shoulders. Hold that position for as long as you’re comfortable. That’s your core! 
Now start to slowly strengthen it with these simple exercises. 

Exercises to Strengthen a Weak Core (One of 7 Surprising Causes of Back Pain) 

The Crunch  

The Crunch Exercise
  • Start on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor at hip width. Line up your head and spine. Cross your arms across your chest 
  • Tighten your core and relax your neck and shoulders. Tuck in your chin and lift your upper back, keeping your lower back, pelvis, and feet on the floor 
  • Slowly lower your upper back to return to the starting position 
  • Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps 

Supine Toe Tap

Supine Toe Tap Exercise
  • Lie on your back 
  • Lift your legs, with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your hands at your sides, palms down 
  • Tighten your core. Lower your right foot and gently tap the floor, keeping your left leg still and your back flat 
  • Raise your right leg to return to the starting position 
  • Repeat with your left leg 
  • Start with one set of 10 then add more sets as your core gets stronger 

These exercises may provide temporary relief, but managing your back pain long term requires uncovering its root cause — the chiropractor’s wheelhouse.  

Whether it’s posture issues like hips out of alignment causing back pain or whether you’ve discovered that one of these 7 surprising causes of back pain are disrupting your quality of life, the sooner you address it, the better.   

Wondering where to find a chiropractor who can detect all 7 surprising causes of back pain? 

Check in with your nearest Chiro One doc at one of our welcoming open-plan clinics across the country. They’ll perform a thorough exam to investigate the root cause of your pain, then personalize your care plan — a combination of gentle chiropractic adjustments and active therapies to get you feeling better longer.  Find a Chiro One doctor near you


Dr. Michael Socha

Chiro One Crystal Lake, IL

Holistic healthcare was common in Poland, where Dr. Socha was born and in the Chicagoland melting pot community where he grew up. After a chiropractor helped him resolve a weightlifting injury, he decided to dedicate himself to helping others find the same benefits.

After graduating on the Dean's List at University of Illinois at Chicago where he studied finance, Dr. Socha switched career paths, earning his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from National University of Health Sciences. He is also a certified acupuncturist

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