Back pain can occur from the neck to the lower back, interfering with normal daily activities. In many cases, back pain is avoidable because it is the result of behaviors such as improper lifting and poor posture.
It is important to see a physician to conduct spine pain diagnostics if back pain develops and lasts for more than a couple of weeks. The physician can work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses the current condition and focuses on preventing back pain in the future.
Learning how to prevent back pain, or to better manage back pain that develops, can improve the quality of life.
Back Pain is Common
Even mild back pain can interfere with life’s enjoyment and the ability to perform work and personal activities. The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute says that 65 million Americans reported a recent episode of back to their doctor in pain clinics.
Back pain can be a dull constant ache or a sharp pain that occurs when moving a certain way. The pain can be acute or chronic (lasts more than three months).
Oftentimes, back pain is preventable. The key is to protect your back throughout the day and the various activities performed.
Preventing Back Pain
There are a number of steps you can take to minimize the chances of developing back pain. You can avoid back pain by:
Do strengthening exercises targeting the core and back muscles a minimum of two days a week. These types of exercises include crunches, knee-to-chest stretches, planks, bridge exercises, and shoulder blade squeezes to name a few.
- Maintain a correct posture
Maintaining a good posture at all times is important to spine health. Good posture means keeping the shoulders beneath the ears and the back straight while walking, standing and sitting. Sitting for long periods of time is a common cause of backache, so be aware of your posture. The neck should not be bent to look at a computer screen, and sit up straight.
- Lose weight (if applicable)
Being overweight or obese can strain the back muscles and put pressure on the spinal discs.
All roads lead back to eating a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet filled with brightly colored fruits and plenty of green vegetables, among other things, provides the nutrients the body’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones need to stay healthy.
Also, be sure to get enough intake of vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D and calcium, for bone health, including the bones in the spine.
- Avoid heavy lifting
People often lift heavy objects improperly, or they try to lift items that are too heavy. Always use proper lifting techniques, which include using the knees and not the back, keeping the back straight and rising straight up.
Use the powerful leg muscles to support your back, instead of asking your back to do work it is not built to do.
- Avoid repetitive and awkward motions
Repetitive motions, especially those requiring twisting at the waist, can cause back pain. This is usually a workplace issue, but it applies to people at home too. For example, crafters and sports enthusiasts can strain their backs due to repetitive motions.
You can use back support that is like the back support for heavy lifting, but taking other steps is just as important. They include stretching, using ergonomic equipment and taking breaks from repetitive movements.
- Manage stress
Stress is insidious in that it causes physical damage that is not always immediately obvious. However, tight neck and back muscles can cause back pain, and stress is sometimes the culprit.
Getting a regular good night’s sleep is crucial to letting the body recover from the day’s efforts. However, you also need to sleep on a mattress that provides adequate back support. A sagging mattress will cause the spine to be out of alignment for hours at a time, leading to back pain.
Reducing Low Back Pain
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that low back pain becomes an issue for 80 percent of the adult population. It is a leading cause of days missed at work. It is one reason so many people want to know how to reduce low back pain, especially without surgery.
The good news is that low back is often treatable by employing some self-help strategies that include:
Resting more than a day or two may ease some of the low back pain, but after that it is important to move. Regular physical exercise is important to find some pain relief.
Exercises targeting the lower back include doing lower back rotational stretches, knee-to-chest stretches, cat stretches and pelvic tilts.
- Wear back support
Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid heavy lifting, especially when it is required at work. Heavy lifting is one of the top causes of lower back pain.
You can wear a back support for lifting heavy objects to reduce the chances of common strains and injury. The typical back belt wraps around the abdomen and has shoulder straps. The added benefit is that it promotes good lifting posture.
- Maintain the recommended weight
Once again, being overweight or obese puts a strain on the back, and especially the lower spine and back muscles.
- Stay active
Sitting for long periods of time is hard on the lower back. The spine compresses and the hip flexors shorten. This can lead to a variety of painful spine conditions, like premature spinal degeneration. Many people sit at a computer screen for hours at a time.
It is important to get up from the desk every 30 minutes and move around to avoid back pain and a host of other health issues. This applies to home too.
- Quit smoking
Studies have shown that smoking reduces the flow of blood to the lower spine, which can lead to spinal disc degeneration. Even the coughing associated with smoking can cause back pain. Quitting smoking is a major step in preventing back pain.
Healthy Behaviors are the Key
It is not one preventive measure that prevents back pain. It is the combination of things like maintaining good posture, maintaining a healthy weight, following a good diet and getting regular exercise that prevents neck and back pain.
Knowing how to keep a healthy back is important to living a life free of pain back. Taking preventive measures while younger will also help senior citizens avoid or minimize some of the common back issues associated with aging that cause back pain.
Majid Ghauri, MD Interventional Pain Management Specialist. Medical Director and Founder of Spine and Pain Clinics of North America (SAPNA)