About four out of five Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. It can take many forms, but lower back pain is the most common. Fortunately, there are many simple lifestyle changes you can make to avoid an aching back.
Daytime Lifestyle Changes
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Being overweight strains your back and disrupts your balance. Abdominal fat is especially problematic. Spot reducing is a myth but your midsection will usually slim down along with the rest of your body when you lose excess pounds.
- Exercise regularly. Yoga is a great way to improve your posture and flexibility and strengthen your muscles. Any physical activity can help fight inflammation by increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to your back.
- Eat more calcium. Strong bones help protect you from osteoporosis, a leading cause of back pain, especially for women. Eat your yogurt and leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale.
- Follow safety guidelines at work. Back injuries are the most common type of workplace injuries. Talk with your employer about job design features that will keep you productive and safe.
- Practice good posture. Make it a habit to press your lower abdomen against your spine. Keep your shoulders held back and relaxed. Hold your head up.
- Sit correctly. Try to use an adjustable chair that will give you all the support you need. Prop a pillow against your lower back if needed. Keep your knees a little higher than your hips. Change positions or take a brief walk frequently.
- Lift safely. Bend down at the knees and lift with your legs to avoid putting the whole load on your back. Carry heavy objects close to your body. Get help if an object is too heavy for you to lift alone.
- Dress comfortably. Stiletto heels and heavy handbags can cause knee and back pain. So can overstuffing your pockets or wearing anything two sizes too small. Enjoy dressing up for special occasions but ensure your everyday wardrobe allows a full range of movement and your tote bag stays under 10 percent of your bodyweight.
Nighttime Lifestyle Changes
- Select the right mattress for you. A moderately firm mattress usually works best because it adapts to the natural curves of your spine. If you have a firm mattress, an inch or two of padding on top may help.
- Sleep on your side. Sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent helps protect your back. Even better, put a small pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned.
- Sleep on your back. Sleeping on your back is also good. Stick a small pillow under your knees to maintain the curve in your lower back.
- Stop sleeping on your stomach. Lying on your stomach puts extra stress on your back. To break the habit, lie on your side and use pillows that will make it harder to roll over.
- Avoid alcohol. You may fall asleep faster drinking alcohol but it impairs the quality of your sleep and you’re more likely to wake up with aches and pains. Some prescription medications may also interfere with sleep.
- Apply heat. A heat pack is an easy and safe way to keep a little ache from growing into a big one. Get a hot water bottle or a pack that you can microwave and apply to any spot that needs a little extra care.
It’s important to see a doctor if you feel any numbness or tingling, or if you experience severe or chronic pain. For most backaches, these self-help techniques will give you effective relief and keep the pain from coming back.