Taking Care of Your Back
Back problems can have a big impact on your life. Pain and discomfort can make it difficult to walk, stand, or even lie down. Back pain is common—almost everyone will experience it at some time. Back pain can have a variety of causes, from moving the wrong way, to lifting incorrectly, to changes caused by aging. That's why it is important to take good care of your back.
Caring for Your BackSome causes of back pain, like age-related changes, cannot be prevented. But there are lots of ways you can take care of your back. Regular exercise is a great way to keep your whole body strong and healthy. Exercises that strengthen the core muscles in your back and abdomen can protect the bones and ligaments in your back. Walking and swimming are great exercises to improve your overall fitness.Some exercises can strengthen your back and prevent injury. Gently stretching your back muscles can help. Follow these steps:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Slowly pull your left knee to your chest.
- Press your lower back into the floor and hold for five seconds.
- Relax, then repeat the exercise with your right knee.
- Do 10 exercises for each leg, alternating legs.
- Plan ahead so you're not in a hurry when lifting heavy objects.
- Stand close to the object you are lifting.
- Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. This will give you a solid base of support.
- Bend at your knees and tighten your stomach muscles.
- Lift with your leg muscles as you stand.
- If the object is too heavy, get help.
- Hold your chest high, with your shoulders back and relaxed.
- Keep your feet parallel and balance your weight on both feet
- Pull your abdomen and buttocks in and hold your head straight.
- Choose a chair that allows you to keep your knees level with your hips and both feet flat on the floor.
- Relax your shoulders and keep your upper back and neck straight.
- Hold your head high, with your chin slightly tucked.
- Your back should be pressed firmly against the back of your chair. If you are sitting for long periods of time, you may want to place a small pillow or rolled towel behind your back.
- When driving, move the seat forward so you can reach the controls without leaning forward.
When Injury OccursEven in with careful lifting, good posture, and a healthy lifestyle, back injury may occur. If your back begins to hurt, try lying on your back on the floor with pillows under your knees. Or, you can try bending your hips and knees and putting your feet on a chair. These positions can help take the pressure of your back. Resting for a day or so may help. Do not rest too long however, since this can slow down your recovery. Even if it hurts, your should spend a few minutes each hour up walking around.For a minor back injury, heating pads or ice may relieve pain. Use heat for 20-30 minutes at a time. Never go to sleep with a heating pad on. If using ice, make sure to wrap it in a towel first. Never put ice directly on your skin.If you have ongoing back pain, talk to your doctor. He may recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.Call your doctor if back pain:
- Goes down your leg below your knee
- Causes your leg, foot, or groin to feel numb
- Comes with fever, nausea, vomiting, weakness, or sweating
- Was caused by an injury
- Is so intense you cannot move around
- Is not getting better after 2-3 weeks
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 7, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Information from your family doctor: low back pain. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(10):2191-2192. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2191.html. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Low back pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00311. Updated December 2013. Accessed March 25, 2014.
Preventing back pain at work and at home. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175. Last updated March 2012. Accessed March 25, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 03/2014
- Update Date: 03/25/2014