Rare is the person who goes through life without some sort of back pain. It’s no wonder, considering that the back is a feat of biological engineering: More than 33 vertebrae form the flexible column that runs from skull to tailbone; between each is a cushiony disc, and holding everything together is a web of ligaments and muscles. What with all those moving parts, there’s plenty that can go wrong and it’s not always easy to identify the cause of back trouble. The smartest approach to pain? Prevention. And if you’ve had trouble before, incorporating back-sparing techniques into your everyday routine will help you avoid a recurrence.
Posture-perfect. Believe it or not, proper posture is one of the first lines of defense against back pain. Confused about what it means to stand up straight? Then keep this image in mind: Keep your ears above your shoulders, hold your shoulders above your hips and your hips above your knees and feet. When sitting, preserve the curve in your lower back by tucking a rolled towel behind you. Get up at least once an hour to stretch.
Move a muscle. Strengthening the muscles that support your legs, back and abdomen is a sound way to prevent back pain. Swimming is a good choice, especially if you’ve hurt your back before. Walking and cycling also are recommended.
Lift it right. Use your legs, not your back, to lift heavy objects. Place one foot slightly ahead of the other, bend your knees, tighten your stomach muscles, pick up the load and lift, keeping your back straight and the object close to your body.
Take a load off. Lugging a heavy shoulder bag (more than 5 pounds)? Unload unnecessary items and switch the bag from shoulder to shoulder.
Don’t sleep on it. The best way to spend the night? Lying on your side, a pillow tucked between your knees. Avoid sleeping on your stomach, and if you must sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees.
Lose excess weight. A bad back and extra pounds are a bad combination. Slim down and your back will benefit.
Wear sensible shoes. Alternate between flats and 2-inch heels. Wear well-fitting athletic shoes during your leisure time.
Try these simple strategies if you experience back pain:
Take two aspirin. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and ibuprofen, can reduce inflammation. If they don’t bring relief, or if your pain is severe, ask your doctor about prescription medication.
Ice it. Apply an ice pack for no more than 20 minutes at a time for the first 48 hours. After that, try a heating pad.
Stick it out. Instead of taking to your bed, stick with as many of your normal activities as possible. Bed rest of four days or more can actually aggravate your condition.