Top tips on avoiding back pain

If you have back pain, you share a commonality with many others.  At one time or another, back pain affects an estimated 80 percent of Americans.  Four out of five people will experience back pain at some point in their life making it the fifth most common reason for seeing a doctor.  The pain can range from severe to mild and be located anywhere from the lower, middle or upper back. 

Causes of back pain can vary widely and can include nerve and muscular problems, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or spinal stenosis.  Being overweight or sedentary can be another reason why back pain occurs. 

To prevent back pain from flaring its ugly head, the best thing to do is to avoid it to begin with.  Of course that may be easier said than done but simple self-help strategies can be surprisingly effective at preventing back pain and keeping it from returning:

·Exercise frequently – When your back is hurting, the last thing many people want to do is move. But limiting movement or exercise can continue to cause inflammation and muscle tension.  Our muscles are meant to move and that movement helps keep joints fluid.  Also by exercising on a regular basis, it helps keep weight down, especially around the stomach, which puts added strain on the back.

·Lose weight if necessary – Carrying extra weight, particularly around the abdomen, will shift your center of gravity putting undue strain on your lower back.  Reaching a healthier body weight can take the unnecessary pressure and stress off of your back helping you feel much better.

·Sleep sideways – It is generally recommended not to sleep on your back or on your stomach.  Both positions are hard on the back.  Instead, sleep on your side.  Sleeping on your side with your knees pulled up slightly toward your chest can help put you in a more comfortable position.  If you must sleep on your back, put one pillow under your knees and another under your lower back.  For people who prefer sleeping on their stomach, then place a pillow under your hips.

·Have good posture – Anyone who is sitting in front of a computer all day must pay attention to their posture to avoid back pain.  It is very common to slouch in front of a computer or while texting on a cell phone.  This puts a great deal of unnecessary strain on our backs.  Get up from the computer at regular intervals to break up long periods of sitting in front of the computer.  Do some stretching exercises each time you take a break giving your back some much needed tender loving care.  By practicing good posture this helps maintain the natural curves of your back keeping it strong.

·Reduce stress – Stress impacts your back more than you realize.  It causes you to tense up your muscles and if this is occurring constantly it will result in back pain.  Each day practice stress reduction activities by including yoga, meditation, biofeedback, deep breathing, tai chi, or guided imagery. 

·Women should avoid high heels – High heels may look stylish and sexy but they also are shifting your center of gravity straining your back.  Stick to one-inch heels.  If you have to wear higher heels, bring along a pair of low-heeled shoes to slip into when the high heels become uncomfortable. 

·Lift heavy objects carefully – Be careful when lifting heavy items and never bend over from the waist to do so.  Instead, bend your knees and squat, pulling in your stomach muscles, holding the object close to your body as you stand up.  Prevent twisting your body while lifting and if possible, push the heavy object rather than pulling it. 

·Pick a back friendly purse or briefcase – Choose a purse or briefcase with a wide, adjustable strap long enough to reach over your head.  Have the strap on the opposite shoulder of the bag distributes weight more evenly keeping your shoulders even and your back pain free.  Lighten the load of a purse or briefcase by every so often taking out things you don’t need.

·Quit smoking – Many people may not realize that smoking can be a cause of persistent back pain.  It is not entirely clear how smoking affects back health, but one possibility is that it narrows blood vessels.  Narrowed blood vessels result in less oxygen and nutrients reaching the spine making it more susceptible to injury and slower to heal.