Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Prevention is the best cure” before. When it comes to lower back pain, it’s absolutely true!
It doesn’t matter who you are: An active athlete, a busy office worker, a retiree or a high school student – the majority of cases of lower back pain are avoidable if you’re willing to take very small steps toward building healthy habits.
I’ve compiled a great, big list of 10 proven tips (no myths!) for preventing lower back pain before it ever becomes a problem:
Virtually every recovery program prescribed by a doctor will include some form of exercise and stretching – and it’s also the single best way to prevent against back pain from ever happening!
Our spines are supported by our back muscles and ligaments; and in turn, our body weight and movements are supported by our spine. It makes sense that strengthening your back muscles and improving your flexibility would help prevent against back pain – as long as you exercise the right way, and within your limits.
I talk a lot more about this on my Lower Back Pain Treatments & Cures page (where I share some exercises and stretches), but here’s some quick takeaways:
- Low-impact aerobic exercises like running on a treadmill or elliptical machine, rowing, climbing on a Stairmaster machine or swimming can all help strengthen your body and regulate your weight, keeping excess weight from placing more pressure on the spine.
- Stretching regularly (especially in between work periods – you should get up and move every 20 minutes!) can help strengthen your back and improve flexibility. Think of it this way: “Your best position is your next position!” – the more you’re in motion, the better you will feel.
- Weight training – Your lower back consists of some very small muscles that are easy to overwork – so instead of targeting them directly, it’s best to do exercises that strengthen your entire core – including your abs!Deadlifts, rowing motions, pull-ups, weighted hyperextensions, squats and more can all keep your lower back strong and your body supported.
If you’re nervous about exercising or want to be sure you won’t injure yourself further, talk to a professional who can build you a customized plan.
2. Sleep Smart
How hard can it be to sleep properly? After all, we’re all getting plenty of practice, right?
Still, poor sleep posture is to blame for some of the most common lower back pain problems – and it’s an easy one to fix!
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach. When sleeping on your belly, your lower back is compressed, while your head and neck are forced to twist to the side, which can cause a herniated disk. All of this puts a strain on your spine.If you can’t sleep any other way, consider using a thinner pillow or putting a spine under your pelvis to help elevate your spine and keep it in a more neutral position.
- If sleeping on your side, sleep with a pillow between your knees and keep your legs together. Sleeping on your side leaves your upper leg unsupported, which can cause your spine to rotate, or tilt your pelvis, bringing your spine out of alignment.By bringing your legs up slightly toward your chest and comfortably resting a pillow, you can help support your spine while sleeping on your side and help mitigate lower back pain after a long night’s rest.
- When sleeping on your back, keep your legs straight and avoid thick pillows. This makes it easy for your head, neck and spine to stay aligned in a neutral position.
Of course, your sleeping position won’t matter that much if your mattress doesn’t support you properly, which brings us to my next point…
3. Get the Right Mattress
If you want to give yourself the best chance of reducing or eliminating lower back pain, you absolutely need the right mattress.
There’s no way around it: If your mattress is sagging, dented, worn or hasn’t been replaced in 8 – 10 years, there’s a very good chance your back pain is being worsened by the mattress you sleep on.
Studies prove your mattress matters…
- A 2010 study at Oklahoma State University found that chronic lower back pain sufferers saw significant pain relief when they switched to medium-firm foam-surfaced mattresses tailored to their personal sleeping positions.
- A 2009 study from Oklahoma State also found that new bedding systems increase sleep quality while reducing back discomfort.
- A 2003 controlled-blind study saw that chronic, non-specific lower back pain patients with medium-firm mattresses had better outcomes for pain in bed, pain on rising and disability than those with VERY firm mattresses.
- 95% of orthopedic surgeonsin one survey said they believed a mattress plays a role in lower back pain
As you can see, some mattresses are much better than others for preventing and relieving lower back pain. The right mattress for you will have a good balance of support, firmness and comfort.
I’ve outlined a few of my favorite brands on my Lower Back Pain Relief Products page – if you’re thinking at all about a new mattress, I strongly recommend giving it a read!
4. Sit Properly
Whether it’s behind a desk, on the computer or watching TV on the couch, the average office worker spends an average of 10 hours a day sitting down.
But if you’re sitting improperly or using a chair that doesn’t offer the proper support, all that time spent using poor posture is putting a whole lot of stress on your spine.
- Avoid slouching, which puts added strain on your back.
- Don’t just sit up straight! Forcing your spine into a completely straight position actually puts more stress on your spine.
- Align your ears, shoulders and hips in a vertical line. This keeps your spine in a natural, healthy position with even weight distribution.
- Keep both feet on the floor, with your knees slightly lower than your hips (about a 110 degree angle)
- Get up and move every 30 minutes or so. Doing some simple exercises like shoulder shrugs, calf raises, lunges or repeated lower back stretches (don’t just stretch once – mobilize the muscles!) will help relieve tension and stress on your joints and muscles.
One of the easiest ways to correct this is by investing in an ergonomic chair that offers proper lumbar support and (gently) forces you to adopt a better position for your spine.
I’ve tried out over 25 different chairs by now, and the one I recommend most to people who ask (it’s got great reviews from others, too!) is Herman Miller Aeron chair.
It comes with a very reasonable cost, excellent support, adjustable seat height/depth and overall comfort. You can read about a few different chair brands I recommend on my Lower Back Pain Relief Products page to get more info, too!
Remember – you’re going to be sitting in this chair for at least a few hours every day, so it’s worth making a bit of an investment for something that can help get rid of your back pain.
5. Mind Your Posture
Like a lot of people, my mother used to nag me about my posture all the time – and now, I’m actually glad she did!
Poor posture puts strain on your muscles and joints, which can not only cause lower back pain, but also cause circulation issues and contribute to feelings of chronic fatigue.
Over time, poor posture can limit your flexibility and your range of motion, changing the way you move. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle – poor posture causes back pain, which leads to worse posture, which causes even more pain!
For good standing posture…
- Keep your shoulders back and aligned with the rest of your body (don’t hunch forward or back).
- Don’t jam your butt out – keep it tucked in with the rest of your body.
- Put a slight bend in your knees to ease the pressure on your hips.
- Keep your chest as perpendicular to the ground as possible.
- Avoid standing with a flat back, as this means your pelvis is tucked in, eliminating the natural curve of your lower back.
- Tighten your abs and stomach muscles to keep your body upright and straight.
- Wear proper footwear with enough arch support.
- Keep moving! Your best position is your next position.
One really common problem?
“Text neck” – the position we all assume while staring into our phones. Whenever possible put the mobile away and look straight ahead – there’s a whole world to pay attention to!
6. Watch Your Weight
I’ve written an entire section on weight loss and back pain, but the short story is this:
The more weight you’re carrying in your stomach, the more stress you are placing on your spine and lower back muscles by forcing them to compensate for a pelvis that is being pulled forward.
Multiple studies show a correlation between being overweight or obese and increased risk of lower back pain and spinal degeneration.
One such study by Khoueir et. al found that substantial weight reduction was associated with reductions in pre-existing back pain beyond what could be attributed to an increase in overall well-being associated with weight loss.
Being overweight can also be a sign that you’re not strengthening your back and core muscles – the ones responsible for supporting all of that upper body weight.
Check out more tips and insights into how weight loss can help with your lower back pain.
7. Butt Out
A 2001 study delivered at the meeting of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons looked for a link between lower back pain and smoking. They found that a history of smoking, hypertension and coronary artery disease were all significantly associated with the development of lower back pain.
That’s not all – those risk factors, along with abnormally high blood cholesterol, were linked to degeneration of the spine over time!
If you want to enjoy great spine health for the rest of your life, then you’ve now got another reason to quit.
8. Ditch the High Heels
You might be surprised to learn that the way you walk can have a big impact on your spine – and even cause lower back pain.
Shoes like stilettos and high heels can throw off the alignment of the spine by changing your center of gravity and forcing your posture into awkward positions.
Flip flops and Crocs, on the other hand, and any shoes without any arch support can lead to pain in your ankles, heels and knees – all of which can translate up into your lower back.
Whenever you’re walking to and from work or traveling any significant distance, invest in shoes with proper arch support like runners or specialized orthopedics.
9. Empty Your Wallet
No, I’m not suggesting you spend a bunch of money – but a fat wallet might be a contributing cause to your lower back issues.
“Piriformis Syndrome” happens when the sciatic nerve is compressed or irritated by your piriformis muscle – which leads to pain, tingling and numbness along the path of the sciatic nerve.
It’s also called “Fat wallet syndrome”, since the condition is often caused or made worse by sitting with a large wallet in your back pocket.
This fix couldn’t be easier – just move your wallet to a front pocket, or carry it in a briefcase or bag.
10. Lift With Your Legs
It sounds simple, but lifting things the wrong way is one of the leading causes of pulled muscles, spinal disc injuries and strains that cause lower back pain.
We lift things all the time – on the job, at the gym and in our homes, so while you might think this advice only applies to construction workers or gym rats, everyone can benefit.
To avoid throwing out your lower back…
- Know your limits. Don’t try to pick up anything heavier or larger than you can manage on your own.
- Lift slowly and deliberately in a controlled fashion, without jerking or twisting.
- Keep your feet a shoulder-width apart to give yourself a nice, solid base to lift with.
- Bend at the hips and the knees only – never at your waist or with your back. This creates an unnatural and very stressful position for the spine to lift with.
- While lifting, keep your shoulders back, your chest out and your back straight. You should be able to look straight ahead.
- Hold whatever you are lifting as close to your body as possible to avoid creating an awkward angle or stretch in the spine.
- Don’t twist your upper body to change direction – use small steps with your feet and lead with your hips while keeping your shoulders in.