Last updated November 2022
Back pain can make you miserable. It can also cost you money: Medical treatment for back pain costs tens of billions of dollars each year; it is the most common cause of job-related disability in the U.S.; and it is a leading cause of missed work.
While most back pain goes away within a few days, some bouts last much longer—or permanently. Sometimes back pain radiates to other spots in the body.
The main point is, you don’t want it. Here are some suggestions for avoiding it:
Stay active. Have a regular routine of low-impact exercises that will increase muscle strength and flexibility—for example, 30 minutes a day of speed walking, swimming, or riding a bike. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Your doctor should be able to suggest low-impact exercises appropriate for your age and designed to strengthen your lower back and abdominal muscles.
Stretch. Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity, but also stretch each morning to prepare for all the twists, turns, and bends of everyday life.
Stand up straight. Your back supports weight most easily when curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet.
Don’t slouch. When sitting, pretend you’re under the glare of a cranky elementary school teacher and SIT UP STRAIGHT! Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep your shoulders back. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of your back can provide some lumbar support. When using a computer, adjust your seat or its surface so that you don’t have to bend over.
Sleep on your side. It can help reduce any curve in your spine. Consider switching to a firmer mattress.
Avoid smartphone strain. Most of us hunch over too far to peer at our phones. Raise the device to eye level when viewing it and texting. Limit your phone screen time.
Switch positions often. By periodically shifting sitting positions, stretching, or getting up to walk around you’ll relieve tension in your back. If you must sit for a long period of time, rest your feet on a low stool or a stack of books. Consider using a standing desk that can be adjusted so you can change positions regularly.
Be sensible about shoes. Wear comfortable low-heeled footwear.
Lighten your load. If you carry a large purse, computer bag, or overnight case with a strap slung over one shoulder, shift sides every few minutes to distribute the strain. Better yet, use a backpack that symmetrically distributes weight across your back.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy for you. Lift with your knees, pull in your stomach muscles, and keep your head down and in line with your straight back. Keep the object close to your body. Don’t twist when lifting.
Stay slim. Pounds around the waistline make lower back muscles work harder.
Eat right. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.