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How to prevent low-back pain
Anyone can experience low-back pain—and a lot of us do. According to one estimate, about 80% of adults have low-back pain at some point in their lives.
Pain can start suddenly, maybe because you tried to lift something heavy. Or it can develop over time, due to age-related changes in your spine. Most low-back pain is temporary, lasting a few days or a few weeks and going away on its own. But while the pain lasts, it can limit your mobility.
There are a variety of steps you can take to prevent low-back pain. Here are a few.
Back pain occurs more often in people who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not support the spine well. Work with your doctor to develop a plan for regular exercise that keeps your back muscles strong.
KEEP A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Being overweight, obese or gaining a lot of weight in a short time can put stress on your back and lead to low-back pain. For a healthier back, try to stay within 10 pounds of your ideal weight.
Sit in a chair that has good lumbar support and is at a proper height for the task. Keep your shoulders back. Keep your knees and hips level. Look straight ahead without neck strain. Keep your computer monitor at arms' length. If you're going to be sitting for a long time, raise your feet up onto a low stool.
LOOK AT YOUR SHOES
If you have back pain after standing or walking, take a look at your shoes. Shoes with high heels or heels with uneven wear can hurt your posture and put stress on your back.
LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS
If you're going to be lifting a heavy item, ensure that you have a clear path to move it. Keep a wide stance, and bend at the knees, not the waist. Keep the load as close as possible to your body. Avoid bending from your back, and don't twist. Better yet, try to avoid lifting very heavy objects.
IF YOU SMOKE, QUIT
Smoking decreases blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk for osteoporosis, or weak bones. Coughing due to heavy smoking also can cause back pain. Ask your doctor for help quitting smoking.
ADJUST YOUR DRIVING POSITION
Set the seat height and distance so that your knees are slightly bent and your back is supported. Recline your seat slightly to decrease any strain on your back. If your car seat does not have adequate lumbar support, place a cushion or rolled-up towel behind your back. Take frequent breaks during long drives to get out of the car and stretch or take a short walk.
If back pain strikes despite all your best efforts, you might need to see a doctor.
Sources: Arthritis Foundation; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; North American Spine Society
The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.