Back pain isn’t as likely as the common cold, but it’s close. If your back doesn’t hurt right now, chances are you remember a bout with back pain in the past – eight out of 10 people have it at some time in their lives. If you’re older than 30 or 40, you’re even more likely to have back issues ranging from an occasional sore back to severe pain that keeps you from enjoying life.
But that doesn’t mean back pain is inevitable. The National Institutes of Health and other experts agree that you can lower your risks by making a few lifestyle changes. These tips will help keep your back – and the rest of your body – healthy and strong:
- Get some exercise. Being physically inactive raises your risks for back pain. Add regular aerobic activities, such as walking or bicycling, several times a week. You should also work on corestrengthening exercises for your back and abdominal muscles, which help support your spine.
- Watch your weight. Extra pounds put extra stress on your back. Being overweight also makes it harder to get the exercise you need.
- Eat right. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps you control your weight and also gives you the nutrients you need for strong bones. Low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium, along with dark green, leafy vegetables. Many foods, such as breakfast cereals and dairy products, are fortified with vitamin D, which your body needs in order to absorb calcium.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking weakens your bones and increases your risks for developing osteoporosis. It also affects muscles and other tissues. Smokers are more likely than others to have low back pain.
- Learn how to lift. Using the wrong muscles when lifting heavy objects is a major cause of back pain.When you need to lift something heavy or unwieldy, your best move is to get help. Whether you share the weight or lift on your own, use your leg muscles instead of your back. Keep your back straight and hold the load close to your body. Don’t twist your back while lifting or holding something heavy.
- Sit and stand correctly. If you work at a desk, make your sitting position work in your favor. Adjust your chair or use a foot rest so that your feet rest on the floor with your knees slightly lower than your hips. Sit up straight and adjust the chair back, or use a pillow, to support your lower back. When standing, try not to slouch. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed, and your weight evenly distributed over both feet.
- Wear the right shoes. Wearing high heels can change the position of your spine, and over time this can lead toback pain. Try not to wear high heels regularly. It’s also important to replace running shoes when they show wear. And if you stand on hard floors for long periods, wear shoes with more cushioning.
If you do develop back pain, don’t go to bed to recover. Instead, rest and cut back your activities for a few days only. You can use ice on the painful area during that time, and try an over-the-counter pain reliever.Use pain as your guide to resume normal activities, and don’t lift anything heavy for six weeks. Gradually start exercising after two to three weeks. It’s a good idea to see a physical therapist to learn the best exercises for your back.
Most back pain goes away on its own in a few weeks. However, it sometimes signals a more serious problem. Make an appointment with your doctor if severe back pain doesn’t improve with brief rest, if the pain spreads down one or both legs or causes numbness or tingling. People with osteoporosis should also see their doctor about new back pain.You should get immediate medical care if your back pain starts after a fall or injury to your back, if it causes new bowel or bladder symptoms, or if you also have a fever.
You can learn more about avoiding back pain by visiting the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons at orthoinfo.aaos.org.