These Everyday Habits Could Be Hurting Your Muscles

In 2012, the National Health Interview Survey determined that 25.3 million Americans feel pain every day. Much of that is muscle pain in their backs, knees, necks, and more. Everyday habits–such as sitting for too long and lifting objects incorrectly–can worsen these aches. Sometimes, pain can have a surprising origin, such as a vitamin deficiency. See which habits and lifestyle factors are hurting your muscles.

Texting Too Much Will Give You “Text Thumb”

A woman texts someone while waiting at an airport.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Jason A. Strelzow, an orthopedic trauma expert from the University of Chicago, says that he sees many patients for “text thumb.” When people text too much, the tendon that connects the thumb to the wrist swells. Medical professionals call this condition de Quervain’s tenosynovitis.

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis might cause pain or numbness near the base of your thumb, especially when you move your hand or make a fist. If the pain escalates, it might inhibit movement. Dr. Strelzow says that you can avoid “text thumb” by texting in moderation.

The Painful Consequences Of Sitting Too Long

A man watches TV while sitting on a couch.
Juan Ordonez/Unsplash
Juan Ordonez/Unsplash

According to a 2013 survey, most Americans sit for 13 hours every day. This much sitting directly contributes to muscle pain. Osteopathic physician Elan Goldwaser told Health Matters that sitting can cause neck, back, shoulder, knee, and foot pain.

Sitting tightens neck muscles, weakens hips, and bulges discs in the lower back. Chiropractor Andrew Bang calls this “dead butt” syndrome, when sitting weakens the body enough to cause muscles to ache. For office workers, getting up every hour to walk and stretch can prevent dead butt syndrome.

Are You Wearing The Wrong Shoes?

A man tries on sneakers at a store.
Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Maja Hitij/Getty Images

If you frequently feel pain or tension in your knees, feet, hips, or back, you might be wearing the wrong shoes. Podiatrist Megan Leahy told Shape that many foot and ankle injuries stem from ill-fitting shoes. You might need shoes with a lower arch, more supportive sole, more room, or other changes.

Here are some signs that you’re wearing the wrong shoes: your heel aches; you get blisters; your arch hurts; your feet or heels feel tense after exercise. If you’re having trouble finding the right shoes, speak to a podiatrist.

Slouching Causes More Than Just Back Pain

A woman slouches forward while driving a car.
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If an adult in your life instructed you to sit up straight, it was for good reason. Slouching is a well-known cause of back pain. According to BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, slouching puts pressure on the discs and joints in the spine. Without added support, the spine will be pushed beyond its tolerable limit, causing pain.

But that’s not all. Orthopedic surgeon Joseph Gjolaj says that slouching could also spark gastrointestinal issues and acid reflux. When you hunch over, your internal organs compress, which might make your stomach feel icky.

Looking Down At A Phone Or Laptop Creates “Tech Neck”

Two men browse through their laptops as light illuminates them from behind.
Patrick Lux/Getty Images
Patrick Lux/Getty Images

Nowadays, many people look down while browsing their phone or laptop. This creates pain in their neck and shoulders which doctors call “tech neck.” According to spine surgeon Dr. K. Daniel Riew, tech neck tires out your muscles and can lead to aches and spasms.

To prevent this, you can position your phone or laptop so that it’s at eye level. Instead of sitting up straight, you might want to try reclining in your chair, says Dr. Riew. This will put less pressure on the discs in your neck.

You’re Probably Not Getting Enough Vitamin D

A bottle of vitamin D3 supplements is seen next to the pills.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphate in the body, which in turn strengthens bones, teeth, and muscles. When people have a vitamin D deficiency, that might manifest in joint and muscle pain. In 2011, research in The Journal of Neuroscience found that skeletal pain and sensitivity increases with a lack of vitamin D.

Experts estimate that one in 20 people have a vitamin D deficiency. Foods such as fatty fish, eggs, and mushrooms can give you more of this vitamin. Getting more sunshine or taking supplements can also help you.

How To Lift Boxes Correctly

A shipping company employee carries a box in a warehouse.

The next time you move, make sure that you’re lifting heavy boxes correctly. Some people make their backs do all the work, which might result in unnecessary pain. According to the research journal Clinical Biomechanics, too much strain on your back could lead to lower-back injury.

To lift objects correctly, heed these tips from the University of North Carolina. Get as close as you can to the box and bend your knees. When you get a solid hold on the object, lift with your legs. Try not to bend your back while picking up or putting down.

High Heels Reshape Leg Muscles

A model walks down a runway with high heels.
Matthew Peyton/Getty Images
Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

While high heels look fashionable, they can harm your legs. In 2010, a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology reported that high heels can reshape your leg muscles. Heels strain the calf and Achilles tendon. Over time, the calf muscles shorten, and the Achilles stiffens to adjust to the foot’s new position.

Even if your muscles don’t adjust to heels, they can still cause pain. According to the American Osteopathic Association, walking in heels puts more strain on the lower back, ankles, neck, and shoulders. That’s why wearing heels can give people full-body pain.

The Heavy Price Of Carrying A Heavy Backpack

In the rain, a person walks down the street with a backpack.
Ion Sirbu/Unsplash
Ion Sirbu/Unsplash

Bad news for students: carrying a heavy backpack everywhere could easily strain your muscles. In 2018, a study in PLoS One examined how backpack weight affects children. If the bag weighs more than 10% of a person’s body weight, it will cause back, shoulder, and neck pain, the researchers said.

In 2013, an earlier study found that heavy backpacks damage nerves. When straps tug at the shoulders, they strain nerves that connect to arms and fingers. Over time, this might seriously damage a person’s arm and hand movement.

Less Sleep, More Pain

A man falls asleep on a car wheel.

Sleep is your body’s recovery period, and if you don’t get enough, you could feel more aching. In 2012, a study in the journal Sleep found that sleep loss not only worsens muscle pain, but also depression, fatigue, and arthritis.

That said, the Arthritis Foundation emphasizes that the relationship goes both ways. When people have more joint pain, they get less sleep; and when they get less sleep, they feel more pain. Some experts believe that sleeplessness creates more inflammation throughout the body, which exacerbates soreness.

Do Not Cross Your Legs Too Often

A woman crosses her legs while sitting.

While crossing your legs isn’t harmful, it can strain your joints over time. According to Total Orthopaedic Care, crossing legs places pressure on the knees, hips, and leg nerves. If you’ve been feeling pain there after sitting, double-check your posture.

One health myth says that crossing your legs can cause varicose veins. Dr. Matthew P. Wichman of Aurora Health Care says that this isn’t true. Varicose veins appear when valves in the leg veins weaken. However, crossing your legs can result in knee, hip, and lower back pain.

You’d Better Be Exercising!

Models run on the beach.
Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images
Arthur Elgort/Conde Nast via Getty Images

Although over-exercising can cause muscle pain, not exercising at all will guarantee it. People who have consistent arthritis and back pain need exercise. According to Harvard Health Publishing, strengthening your muscles will improve your posture and keep your muscles healthy. This will prevent back, knee, and other joint pain in the long run.

The American College of Rheumatology says that any exercise can alleviate joint pain. But stretching, strength, and aerobic exercises are the top three. Certain workouts tackle specific types of pain. For example, if you suffer from lower back pain, try doing more core exercises.

Never “Exercise Through The Pain”

After running, a woman places her hands on her knees and rests.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“No pain, no gain” is a common phrase in the fitness community. But health experts advise against working out while you’re in pain. Sports medicine physician Dominic King told Cleveland Clinic that “you should not push through pain while exercising.”

When you feel sore while exercising, it’s likely because your muscles are strained. Working them more will only worsen it. Plus, there is a possibility that the pain could stem from injury. The last thing you want to do is overwork an injured muscle or joint.

A Hand Bag On One Side Of Your Body Will Drag You Down

A woman carries a purse while she crosses the street.

A heavy purse can make you hurt, especially when it hangs on one side of the body. In 2011, research from the British Chiropractic Association showed that both men and women feel neck, shoulder, and back pain after carrying bags. It can even reinforce poor posture.

“Though you might not notice it, your body dramatically adapts and compensates [when you carry a bag],” explains physiotherapist Russell Stocker. Your neck tilts forward, your shoulders raise and lean backward, and your hips and legs take the brunt of the extra weight. All of that means more pain.

Why You Shouldn’t Sleep On Your Stomach

A woman sleeps on her stomach.
Vladislav Muslakov/Unsplash
Vladislav Muslakov/Unsplash

If you’ve ever woken up with numb arms or an aching neck, you might be sleeping in the wrong position. Stomach-sleepers are prone to aches and pains. According to spine surgeon Raymond J. Hah, lying on your stomach places too much pressure on the curvature of your spine. It also forces your neck to bend in an awkward way.

As a result, stomach-sleeping could result in a sore neck, numb arms or legs, or an aching upper back. Scientists at the University of Southern California say that sleeping on your back or side is better.

Stop Skipping Stretching

Swimmers stretch on the beach before getting in the water.
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Do you stretch after a workout? If not, you might want to start. David O. Draper, a sports medicine professor at Brigham Young University, told WebMD about delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS occurs because of microscopic muscle tears that many people don’t feel until a while after they work out.

Even if you don’t feel sore right after exercise, you might later. Physical activity strains your muscles, and if you don’t stretch afterward, you could feel more pain. To offset the pain, stretch before working out, too.

Stress Doesn’t Only Hurt Your Head

A stressed man presses his hand to his temples.
Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash
Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

Chiropractors like Lily Friedman often see muscle pain as a result of stress. She told The Healthy that men often get stress pain in their lower back, while women get it in the upper back. Why does this happen?

According to Arthritis Research & Therapy, many people get less sleep, poor posture, less exercise, and a worse diet when they feel stressed. That’s why many rheumatoid arthritis patients report more pain during flare-ups. If your stress seems to be contributing to muscle pain, tackle the stress first.

Smokers Have More Chronic Pain Than Non-Smokers

A woman clutches her elbow in pain.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to Cleveland Clinic, both smokers and ex-smokers are three times more likely to suffer from chronic pain. Research in Rheumatic Diseases found that smokers tend to experience more fatigue, tiredness, headaches, back pain, and neck pain.

Experts have proposed different reasons for why this happens. Some believe that nicotine decreases the amount of nutrients in the blood, which weakens muscles over time. Others suggested that smokers tend to be more susceptible to pain, and that people with physical jobs tend to smoke more often than people in other careers. Whatever the reason, tobacco has a strong link to muscle pain.

Gaining Weight Could Make Your Muscles Hurt

A woman measures her waist while trying to lose weight.

Gaining weight has many adverse health effects, especially on your muscles. According to Spectrum Orthopedics, more weight results in more pressure on your knees, back, and feet. Plus, excess weight sparks more inflammation, which can flare up in joints and muscles over time.

In 2013, researchers found that 78% of obese and overweight people tend to have more pain and stiffness in their knees. Rapid weight gain makes this worse as the body struggles to adjust. If you’re worried about muscle strain, work to keep your weight in check.

Do Not Ignore The Pain!

An elderly woman clutches her sore ankle.
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Never ignore muscle pain, even if it seems minor. Dr. Abby Goulder-Abelson, the rheumatology department chair at Cleveland Clinic, reminds people to heed their muscle pain. “Your body’s trying to tell you something,” she said.

Keep track of how long the pain persists, what worsens it, and where it occurs. If your pain is interrupting daily life, see a doctor. Orlando Health recommends consulting a professional if you also experience a fever or experience sore muscles after taking medication. It could be a symptom of a larger condition.