I Got Your Back!: Back Pain Prevention Tips

Back Pain

Most people have experienced some kind of back pain at least once in their life.  Fortunately, for most people, back pain comes and goes within a few weeks and is not that serious.  But once you have experienced back pain, you have a higher chance of recurrence and an increased possibility of greater pain.

Back pain is an issue that I know well.  As a physical therapist, I have treated many people suffering from back pain, both acute and chronic.  The back is a complicated structure with many bones, joints, nerves, muscles and ligaments.  With such an involved subject, I could go on for hours.  To keep this short though, I’ll only focus on prevention in this article.

What causes back pain?
There are many things that cause back pain, including bulging or ruptured discs, sciatica, arthritis, skeletal irregularities, osteoporosis and some other more rare conditions.  The majority of backaches, however, are caused by strained muscles and ligaments.  This can be the result of poor posture, of lifting improperly or by making a sudden or awkward twisting motion.  These more commonly occurring back pains are much easier to prevent.

What can I do to prevent back pain?
Fortunately, there are some actions you can take to keep your back in optimal health that I’ll go over here.

  1. Maintain a good posture: Posture is key for a healthy back.  Poor posture puts excessive force on your back, causing back and neck pain.  So make sure to keep your head up, chest out, neck straight, ears in line with your shoulders, pelvis forward, and stomach and buttocks tucked in.
  2. Lose weight: Excess weight in the stomach can change your posture, strain your back muscles and compress the discs in your lower back, causing pain.  This increased strain on the muscles and ligaments and compression of the discs is why overweight people have a disproportionately high incidence of back pain.
  3. Exercise regularly: Exercise is very important for a healthy back.  It helps with weight control, improves posture and helps reduce muscle tension.  Strengthening your back and abdominal muscles should be high priorities because they are important for stabilizing that area, reducing pressure on the back.  If you are already injured, speak with your medical doctor about visiting a physical therapist in order to ensure that you are doing appropriate exercises and are performing them correctly.  Otherwise, you might make your condition worse. (A personal trainer would not be recommended in this specific situation.  They have no education in injury rehabilitation and might unknowingly suggest inappropriate exercises for your particular situation.)
  4. Practice proper body mechanics: Make sure that your legs do most of the work when you lift. The muscles of the legs are far stronger than those of the back.  So, when you are lifting something heavy, squat with your legs more than shoulder width apart with your toes pointing out at about 45 degrees, tighten your abdominal muscles, keep your back straight and hold the object close to your body.  Do not arch or twist your back.  Instead, turn your whole body as a unit. This is important because your back is at its weakest when arching or twisting.
  5. Sleep in a good position: Avoid sleeping on your stomach, since that increases sway back (a condition where your back’s arch is exaggerated), putting more pressure on your discs.  Instead, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or on your back with a pillow underneath your knees.  And make sure that you have a reasonably firm mattress.  A mattress that is too soft can cause back pain.
  6. Dress appropriately: Avoid wearing high heels for prolonged periods.  They will increase the curvature of your back.  And if you wear a back brace occasionally, make sure not to wear it all the time. That will weaken your abdominal muscles, which will increase the likelihood of injury.

Taking these simple steps can help you to prevent or lessen back pain.  While maintaining a healthy back takes some effort, the payoff is well worth it.  Take my word for it.  I see people everyday who didn’t put in the effort and they regret it afterward.  Having back pain is not pleasant and can even be debilitating.  So, take good care of your back and it will take good care of you!

Comments (6)

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  1. Mark Salinas says:

    Excellent tips! The pillow between the knees has been so helpful for me. Great post!

  2. Tom says:

    I like how this article focused on solutions!


  3. james says:

    thank you for sharing preventing back pain

    Thank you Talli

    james samy

  4. Maria Isabel says:

    I know all that I should do to prevent back pain but sometimes I forget it or when I am in a hurry. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Shawno says:

    I just read this again because my back’s been bothering me the last few days. Thanks for the tips.

  6. Emily says:

    I’ve had mild back pain my entire life. Some things that help me cope are:

    1. Stretch my back! I do cat/cow yoga poses often, or sit Indian-style then lean forward to rest my forehead on the floor, or do gentle spinal twists while lying on my back by moving my legs to one side and rotating my head in the other direction.

    2. Pilates! I went from knowing nothing about it to practicing it daily at home due to some great DVDs I bought. I now have a six-pack, much to my delight, and my lower back especially is much stronger.

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