UAE: Beware, what you put in your pockets could lead to back pain

Experts warn that keeping wallets or mobile phones in back pockets while sitting can lead to chronic spine problems and lower back difficulties


Sahim Salim

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Published: Tue 5 Mar 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 5 Mar 2024, 10:31 PM

A 35-year-old Egyptian woman with upper back and neck discomfort that persisted for over six months went to a UAE hospital for relief. Her medical team performed a complete posture exam since her job required her to sit for extended periods of time. Surprisingly, the exam did not originally show any problems with her posture. That’s when her doctors realised the problem was with what she was keeping in her pockets while doing her job.

This patient is among several who experience chronic spine problems and lower back difficulties due to what they stuff in their pockets.

“The patient said that she often kept a wallet, keys, and two phones in her abaya pocket when she was seated,” Dr Mohammad Kamel, medical director, Thumbay Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Hospital, told Khaleej Times.

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“When we replicated this in the clinical setting, (we noticed a) … deviation in her spine, particularly affecting the alignment of her scapulae (shoulder blade). One scapula was positioned higher than the other, leading to muscle imbalance and strain in her upper back. She had pressure in her upper back from the hefty pocket, which led to neck discomfort in addition to effects on her lower back and pelvis. Recognising this, we recommended that she shift positions and emphasised the significance of maintaining balanced posture for extended durations.”

Dr Mohammad Kamel.
Dr Mohammad Kamel.

Many people put their wallets or mobile phones in their back pockets and forget to take them out before getting behind the wheel or sitting in their office. This goes against the natural body posture and puts undue stress on joints, muscles, and discs, according to the International Drivers Association. Even a ride as short as 15 minutes can start to affect a driver’s back.

Driving and pain

Dr Kamel related the case of a 45-year-old sales professional who suffered from persistent lower back pain for two years. This patient had to drive daily between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “The discomfort was in his right side, sometimes shooting down his leg, and was made worse by sitting in improper posture during commutes. A little disc bulge and modest degenerative alterations were confirmed by diagnostic testing after examination results showed lumbar spine discomfort and limited mobility.

“Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and education on the negative effects of sitting on heavy pockets were all part of the treatment. Nabeel's regimen's adherence resulted in a notable improvement after six weeks, underscoring the need of addressing lifestyle determinants for spinal health,” the doctor explained.

Dr Amr Hajlawi, specialist orthopaedics, Aster Clinic, Al Warqa, treated a 27-year-old medical representative who moved to Dubai one year back. The patient developed a back pain about six months into his job, which required long driving hours daily. His treatment involved NSAIDs and physiotherapy.

Dr Amr Hajlawi.
Dr Amr Hajlawi.

“The patient was given instructions (to maintain) posture while sitting, driving and sleeping, (and asked to do) stretching exercises and lifestyle modification. After four weeks of treatment, the patient’s pain resolved,” said the doctor.

Complications explained

Dr Kamel highlighted how sitting on a heavy object all day long can put strain on the lower back. “This discomfort might intensify and last longer over time, affecting everyday activities and quality of life. Second, if pressure is applied on one side of the pelvis for an extended period of time, the spine may eventually misalign. Numerous problems, including muscular imbalances, joint dysfunction, and an elevated risk of spinal disorders like scoliosis or degenerative disc disease, might be linked to this misalignment.”

Lower back nerve compression from sitting on an overstuffed back pocket can cause symptoms like tingling, numbness, or weakness in the legs. Nerve compression can worsen into more serious disorders like sciatica, which is characterised by irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve that radiates pain along its course.

“Driving with a full back pocket may have long-term consequences such as decreased hip and spine range of motion and flexibility, especially making everyday activities more challenging and increase the risk of falls or injuries, particularly in older adults,” he added.

Dr Amr said the imbalance caused by a stuffed pocket leads to something called ‘wallet neuritis’. “Sitting on wallets greater than 32mm in thickness increased gluteal discomfort reporting after short duration exposures. Asymmetrical sitting promotes non-neutral spine postures and reduces seat pan contact area.”

How to do it right

Dominic Wyatt, a motoring expert with the International Drivers Association, stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy posture while driving. “Shifting that wallet to the front pocket or even better, placing it away from your seating area can make a significant difference to your back health. It is a simple change, but it can save drivers from severe back problems in the future.”

The association also offered other tips for better back health:

  • Maintain your back's natural curve using lumbar support.
  • Put your wallet, keys, and other essentials in a small sling bag instead of your pockets.
  • Adjust your seat so your knees are the same height or slightly lower than your hips.
  • Do regular back exercises and stretches, especially if you drive for long distances.


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