Backache Prevention Tips
Because most backaches are due at least in part to excessive strain or to weak or tense muscles, there is much you can do to prevent back pain. In more than half of all cases, back pain eventually recurs, so knowing how to prevent back pain is a good idea. Consider the following back pain preventive measures, especially if you have a history of back problems.
- Maintain a good weight for your height. Being overweight can strain back muscles, distort posture, and overly compress the disks in the lower back. Not surprisingly, then, most obese people have chronic back problems. Excess weight, particularly if it has been recently gained, puts increased strain on back muscles and ligaments. Pregnancy can have a similar adverse effect because it alters an expectant mother’s center of gravity.
- Improve your posture. Sitting and standing put considerable pressure on the lower back. Correct posture keeps the head and chest high, neck straight, pelvis forward, and stomach and buttocks tucked in.
- Change your sleeping position. Don’t lie on your stomach, since that makes the stomach muscles sag and increases sway back. Instead, lie on your side with your knees bent to relieve pressure on the disks. For the same reason, if you lie on your back, keep your knees slightly bent by putting a pillow under them. For most people the ideal mattress has firm inner support but adequate surface cushioning. If your mattress is too soft, insert a board under it.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is vital to the health of your back. Calisthenics and stretching routines can help strengthen the back. In addition, low-impact activities like walking, swimming (but not the butterfly or breast stroke, which can put excessive strain on the lower back), and cycling (with an upright posture or recumbent position) are good for the back. You should concentrate not only on exercises that stretch and strengthen back muscles, but also on those that strengthen the abdominal muscles (such as pelvic tilts), which help support the back. However, sports that involve lifting, twisting, excessive arching of the spine, jumping, sudden starts and stops, and/or collisions with other players (including racket sports, golf, bowling, football, and basketball) are usually not recommended for people with chronic back problems.
- Think before lifting and carrying. Bending to pick up an object puts maximum strain on your back and is probably the primary cause of backaches. When you lift, bend at the knees, not at the waist, making your leg muscles do most of the work. To pick up something heavy, squat with your legs apart, tighten your stomach muscles, keep your back straight, and hold the object close to your body. Better yet, push a heavy object instead of lifting it. Pulling is more likely to injure your back. When carrying a heavy load, don’t arch your back or twist your body—try to let your arms and abdominal muscles bear the weight. Because a heavy purse or briefcase can pull your back out of alignment, alternate the load from side to side.
- Dress for ease of movement. Prolonged use of tight pants and girdles may induce weak abdominal muscles and result in back trouble. Avoid high heels since they tend to increase the curvature of the back and increase the risk of a fall.
- Sit in a straight-backed chair. Whenever you sit, hold your spine against the back of the chair. Try to keep your knees a little higher than your hips.
- Check your shoes. Wear flat shoes or shoes with low heels (one inch or lower.)
- Stop any activity that hurts. Any twisting, bending, turning, and stretching that contributes to pain can create back problems that could take weeks to cure.
- Quit smoking.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media