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Arthritis Today

Preventing Back Pain

Tips to prevent back problems – or progression.

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For most people, back pain is a fact of life at some point. But there are many things you can do on your own to reduce the risk of injury, minimize back pain, and prevent its recurrence and speed recovery if you experience problems. Most of it boils down to developing healthy lifestyle habits. Here are six you should adopt now for your back's sake.

Exercise. One of the best things you can do for yourself, whether you have health problems or are healthy and want to stay that way is to be physically active. A regular and varied exercise program can ease pain and stiffness, strengthen muscles and bones, burn calories, improve flexibility, increase energy, improve sleep, boost your mood, increase your sense of well-being and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

If your back is so stiff or painful that you can hardly imagine exercising, speak to your doctor or physical therapist about exercises that might be appropriate for you. Then start slowly, set small goals and build from there.

Read about exercises that can keep you healthy and active.

One type of exercise that is safe and helpful for people with virtually any back problem and or form of arthritis is aquatic exercise.

Learn the basics of walking in water.

Proper posture. Knowing the right way to sit, stand, walk and lift can help prevent back pain. Poor habits such as slouching, hunching over a desk or even pushing your shoulders back too far with your buttocks protruding (known as swayback), on the other hand, can put tension on the spine.

To evaluate your posture try this: Stand with a full-length mirror to your side so that when you turn your head you can see your profile. Now, imagine that you have dropped a weighted string from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. Look in the mirror and imagine where the string would fall. If you are standing properly, it should pass through your earlobe, the front of your shoulder, the center or your hip, behind your kneecap and in front of your anklebone.

To improve your posture, practice standing in a way that would make the string pass through the spots mentioned.

Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess pounds shift your center of gravity forward, creating added stress on your lower back. Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight, if you are overweight, can reduce your risk of back pain. If you already have back pain, losing weight may make it better. Need help losing weight?

Eating for strong bones. Getting enough calcium and vitamin can help keep bones strong and reduce your risk of osteoporosis, which can lead to painful and sometimes debilitating fractures of the vertebrae.

• Calcium. If you are between the ages of 19 and 50 you need 1,000 miligrams (mg) of calcium per day. If you are 51 or older, you need 1,200 mg daily.  If you already have osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend that you get more calcium. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, canned salmon with bones and green leafy vegetables. If you don't get enough calcium in your diet, speak to your doctor about a calcium supplement.

• Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for your spine because it helps your body use the calcium you get from foods to make bones stronger. Your body makes vitamin D in response to sunlight on your skin. If you spend little time outdoors or wear a strong sunscreen when you go out, you may need more than your body makes. Food sources of vitamin D include egg yolks and fortified grain products. You may also want to ask your doctor if you need a vitamin D supplement.

Wearing proper shoes. Sometimes preventing or easing back pain is as simple as wearing the right shoes, particularly if you spend a lot of time standing or walking. Shoes with high heels and uneven wear, for example, can throw off your posture and, in turn, place unnecessary stress on your back.

Choose the right walking shoe.

Not smoking. Research has shown a high prevalence of spinal stenosis and back pain among smokers. One suspected reason is that smoking damages the blood vessels that supply the back.  In addition to that, cigarette smoking is bad for your bones. It is a risk factor for osteoporosis, and it if you need back surgery, it can interfere with healing. Spinal surgeries performed in smokers are significantly more likely to fail than the same surgery in nonsmokers.

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