Back pain will affect 80 percent of us at some point in our lives and often results from repeated behaviors that stress your body.
If you’re battling back pain now — or if you want to take steps to prevent an achy back — make an effort to avoid these seven bad habits:
- Not exercising. “The failure to perform any exercise, particularly abdominal strengthening exercises, may lead to poor posture and increased low back pain,” says Nancy E. Epstein, MD, chief of neurosurgical spine and education at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. and clinical professor of neurological surgery at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. Good exercises for back pain prevention include Pilates or other trunk or “core” strengthening activities that can increase stability in the back muscles. Cardiovascular exercises such as swimming, walking, and bicycling are also recommended, along with movements that improve flexibility.
- Bad posture. “Poor posture can add strain to muscles and put stress on the spine,” says Tae M. Shin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles. Over time, he adds, the stress of poor posture can actually change the anatomical characteristics of the spine. To avoid back injuries, try to stand with your knees slightly bent, and place one foot forward to take pressure off the lower back and reduce back strain. When sitting, Dr. Shin advises sitting with your hips slightly higher than your knees.
- Lifting incorrectly. Often back injuries occur when we try to lift heavy objects and do so incorrectly. Bend your knees and use the power of your legs, keeping the weight close to the body &emdash; be sure to avoid twisting.
- Being overweight. Keep your weight under control for back pain prevention. “Being overweight, especially in the mid-section, shifts your entire center of gravity forward and puts additional strain on your back muscles,” Shin says. Try to stay within 10 pounds of your ideal weight to avoid experiencing unnecessary back pain. Exercise and a healthy diet can help move you toward this goal.
- Smoking. Nicotine restricts blood flow to the discs that cushion your vertebrae and increases the rate of degenerative change, Shin says. Cigarette smoking also reduces calcium absorption and prevents new bone growth, leaving smokers with double the risk of an osteoporotic fracture compared with non-smokers.
- Calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential for bone strength. If you don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet, discuss the possibility of supplements with your doctor.
- Being sedentary. Limiting activity as a means of pain management when you’re experiencing back pain can be counterproductive. Activity increases blood flow to the affected area, decreasing inflammation and reducing muscle tension, Shin says.
When you’re in the throes of back pain or simply want to ward it off, avoiding these habits will help protect and strengthen your back and your entire body.