Ladies, Ditch These Bad Back Habits

Medically reviewed in February 2022

From hauling around a giant purse to wearing high heels, women can do a serious number on the health of our backs.

Turns out, a few seemingly harmless habits may be the culprits for our chronic pain.

Learn more about these four bad back behaviors, plus some easy lifestyle tweaks for a healthier spine, from back and neck specialist, Sara Wilson, FNP, of West Valley Spine Center and West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, Idaho.

Habit #1: Carrying a heavy purse
We're with you. By the end of the day, our bags are loaded down with water bottles, loose change and half-eaten snacks. But lugging around this extra weight each day, usually on one side, is terrible for your back. That added weight strains muscles and tendons in your back and neck, and over time can even lead to chronic pain and nerve damage.

Solution: Wilson recommends keeping your purse under 10 pounds. Also, take a couple of minutes at the end of each day to clean it out so you're not carrying around any unnecessary weight. You can also trade out your usual purse for a crossbody bag, which distributes weight more evenly across your back and shoulders. If you decide to stick to a traditional purse, make sure you switch up the side you carry it on every few minutes.

Habit #2: Wearing sky-high heels
Some women equate a pair of killer heels with a quick confidence boost, but higher isn't better when it comes to your back.

"When you wear high heels, it shortens the muscles in your legs," says Wilson. "Your foot is in an extended position, and that can actually shorten your calf muscle. That fatigue in your calves, thighs and feet from wearing these heels can cause back pain due to the change in posture and body mechanics." High heels also affect your body’s center of gravity, which puts extra pressure on your lower back muscles.

Solution: Wilson suggests sticking with heels no higher than two inches that have a wider heel base (as opposed to a stiletto). Also, switch it up. Instead of wearing heels every day, go for flats or boots to give your back—and feet—a break.

Habit #3: Sitting for too long
Spending long hours on your laptop may be great for your career, but not so much for your back. Sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on our back, neck, shoulders, even our arms and legs, according to Wilson. "And if you have pre-existing back problems, sitting increases compression on the nerves, causing more pain." Not to mention, prolonged sitting also makes us more likely to slouch forward, which throws off our posture and leads to back pain.

Solution: Remember to get up and stretch for three to five minutes every hour, says Wilson. You should also make sure the top of your monitor is at or slightly below eye level, so you're not straining your neck or upper back muscles looking at the screen.

Habit #4: Constantly using your cell phone
In our mobile world, it’s nearly impossible to avoid being on your cell phone. But constant cell phone use isn't good for your neck or your back. Here's why: The average adult head weighs 10 to 12 pounds when it's upright and in a neutral position. When it's bent all the way forward, like when we’re texting, the angle increases pressure (60 pounds worth!) thanks to gravity. And that forces the muscles in your neck and upper back to compensate, causing strain and pain.

"When we use our cell phones, we're either talking on them and trying to do too many things at once—so our head is bent to the shoulder—or we're texting," says Wilson. "When we text, we flex our head and neck forward in an unnatural position."

Solution: Most of us aren't going to give up talking or texting anytime soon, so make sure you’re being mindful of how you're sitting or standing when you do.

Get a better back
The main takeaways for good back health are keeping your weight in check, being mindful of your posture and strengthening your core, Wilson says. Why's your core so important? "If we have strong core muscles, we have better posture and are less likely to slouch. We're better able to carry those heavy purses, too!"

More On

Choosing the Right Birth Control

video

Choosing the Right Birth Control
There are many methods of birth control available, but the type that works best will depend on your age, health and lifestyle. In this video, Patricia...
3 Ways Exercise Can Help Relieve Endometriosis

article

3 Ways Exercise Can Help Relieve Endometriosis
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with endometriosis or have been living with it for years, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do at h...
What You Should—and Shouldn't—Eat When You're Pregnant

slideshow

What You Should—and Shouldn't—Eat When You're Pregnant
Which foods are nutritional powerhouses for pregnant women—and which ones are downright dangerous.
Naomi Watts wants to remove the stigma surrounding menopause

video

Naomi Watts wants to remove the stigma surrounding menopause
Over one billion people around the world will experience menopause by 2025.
The Power of Documenting the Life of Your Child

video

The Power of Documenting the Life of Your Child
Dr. Hilton and Dr. Hauser have a conversation about documenting the life of a child including the pain and grief surrounding stillbirths and neonatal ...