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Jefferson Health

Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Four Ways to Avoid Back Pain

Back pain can interfere with you doing what you enjoy. Thankfully, there are some things you can do each and every day to prevent it.
Man holding lower back in pain

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from the original version to include recent research on surgery for back pain.

Back pain is, well, painful. But it’s more than just pain–it can interfere with your daily activities and prevent you from really living and doing the things you enjoy.

And the problem seems to be increasing. Since the 1990s, surgery for back pain has been on the rise. However, recent research shows that some surgery, specifically lumbar or spinal fusion, which fuses together several vertebrae to eliminate painful motion, may not be right for everyone. Patients whose surgeries followed recommended guidelines were three times more likely to benefit from the surgery than those who didn’t meet the guidelines.

Thankfully, there are some things you can do each day to prevent and alleviate back pain, before you consult a surgeon. Here are four ways you can avoid back pain.

1. Be Careful.
Back pain can stem from a variety of things. When you’re in your 30s, 40 and 50s, the discs in your spine start to change.

“We still think we’re 20 again. Weekend warriors will go out and play flag football and golf,” says June Weise, RN, administrative director of the Orthopedic and Spine Institute at Abington-Jefferson Health.

Back pain can also stem from poor lifting techniques.

“We all think we can lift more than we can and do it with poor technique, so don’t try to do things that are beyond your abilities,” says Weise.

When it comes to these instances, she urges you to be mindful and aware about your activities and how they may impact your back.

2. Tweak your sleep position
Sleeping in certain positions can put pressure on your neck, lower back, hips and even your heels, says Weise. If you prefer to sleep on your stomach, you should consider trying to sleep in another position.

“Sleeping on your stomach is the worst position to sleep in. It flattens the natural curve of your spine and puts a strain on your lower back,” says Weise.

Since you can’t sleep with your face pressed flat into a pillow, you likely rotate your neck, which Weise said can cause pain in your neck and between your shoulders. If you can’t seem to sleep in another position, Weise recommends placing a pillow under your lower abdomen and hips to keep your back in proper alignment.

Sleeping on your back may induce lower back pain. But placing a soft pillow or rolled up towel under your knees can facilitate the natural curve of your spine.

And if you sleep on your side, Weise recommends putting a body pillow between your knees to alleviate any pressure on your lower back and hips.

You don’t have to pick just one position to sleep in either. The longer you’re in one position the more pressure you put on the spine, so it’s good to switch positions.

3. Exercise and get moving
“People who are sedentary tend to have more back problems than people who stay active,” says Weise. “When you sit for long periods of time, it puts pressure on your discs and spine.”

A sedentary lifestyle is frequently linked to carrying excess weight.

“It’s known that people who have excess weight have back problems,” says Weise, adding that when your belly protrudes forward, it throws off your alignment. “Sometimes shedding the weight sheds the back pain. Building up your core strength can have a direct effect on back pain – core muscles support your spine.”

Weise recommends Pilates for core strength, which she said trains your core muscles to work efficiently to keep you upright.

Aerobic exercise can also help alleviate or prevent back pain since it contributes to healthy discs in the spine.

4. Practice proper posture
Most people often spend their days sitting with poor posture, crossed legs and slouched over, which contributes to back pain. Instead, be mindful about your posture and how you’re sitting.

“Always keep your feet on the floor, your hips and knees aligned, or your knees slightly higher. Avoid slouching or leaning forward and have your back aligned up against the back of your chair,” says Weise. “Sit and stand as though there’s a string up through the middle of you to the ceiling, holding you up like a puppet.”

What it all comes down to is maintaining your overall health. Stay healthy, eat right, sleep well and exercise.

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Healthy You, Research & Innovation