Back pain is a drag, especially when it interferes with everyday activities such as putting on your shoes, comfortably sitting at your computer for a full workday or playing with your children. But you’re not alone!
As discussed in Your Guide to Understanding Low Back Pain, back pain is very common, and it usually goes away on its own with time, proper exercise and therapy. Once you’ve recovered from back pain, it’s important to work to keep your back strong and healthy. With all the new research focusing on strength and functional movement, as well as all the fitness routines designed to build a strong core and back, it’s now easier than ever to maintain your back health.
What are five healthy habits to prevent low back pain?
Your health care provider can help you find exercises and therapies that will help strengthen your back. But you can do a lot to take care of your back and promote healing with these five healthy habits.
1. Keep moving.
Avoid sitting or standing in the same position for an extended period of time. The spine likes movement, so it’s a good idea to get up or change positions every 30 minutes to an hour. Consider using a sit-stand desk as a tool to encourage you to change positions more often.
2. Use good posture.
Your mom was right to get on you about slouching. Not only does it look bad, it’s terrible for your back and neck. When you’re standing, hold your head up high, shoulders back and your core muscles engaged. It’s really important to do the same thing when you’re sitting or working at the computer as well — head up, shoulders back and your stomach muscles working to support your back. Get a better chair, a back rest or adjust your computer monitor to help you avoid slouching or craning your neck forward.
3. Bend the right way.
Learning the right way to bend — from the hips (called a hip-hinge) instead of from the back — will help you avoid flare-ups of back pain. And if you’re lifting a child or even a bag of groceries, use your legs to lift, rather than doing the work with your back.
4. Try to maintain neutral positions.
For long-term back health, try to remember to protect your back by holding it in a neutral position. What’s a neutral position? It’s any time your back muscles are not flexed or extended, so there’s less chance of your back getting strained.
5. Strengthen your back with exercise.
Your provider, osteopath or chiropractic doctor can teach you exercises that will strengthen your posture and movements. Once your back pain is under control, a great daily back strengthener is the Foundation Training’s Founder Exercise. This exercise essentially strengthens the main back stabilizer muscles while teaching proper bending all in one exercise. Do this exercise daily to help ensure your long-term back health.
Non-surgical treatments, such as stretching, chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture, are the first choices for resolving your back pain. Finding a quality physical therapist, chiropractor, or acupuncturist who listens to you is very important. These types of therapies can be very effective, especially when combined with exercises you can do at home.
Over the counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be used during the very acute first phase of pain to help take the edge off the pain. If a treatment doesn’t relieve your pain within four to six weeks, it’s a good idea to see your primary care doctor to get help with resolving your pain. They may want to try prescription-strength NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) or muscle relaxers to relieve pain as your back heals.
What’s the long-term outlook for someone with back pain?
Recovering from low back pain takes time, patience and dedication to doing self-care and exercises. Make sure you follow through with your rehabilitation plan, even after the pain has subsided. Being aware of your back and strengthening it as a regular part of your workout routine will prevent flare-ups and keep your back feeling good long term.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
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