Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Taking Care of Your Back

Back problems can have a big impact on your life. Pain and discomfort can make it difficult to walk, stand, or even lie down. Back pain is common—almost everyone will experience it at some time. Back pain can have a variety of causes, from moving the wrong way, to lifting incorrectly, to changes caused by aging. That's why it is important to take good care of your back.

Caring for Your Back ^

Some causes of back pain, like age-related changes, cannot be prevented. But there are lots of ways you can take care of your back.

Exercise

Regular exercise is a great way to keep your whole body strong and healthy. Exercises that strengthen the core muscles in your back and abdomen can protect the bones and ligaments in your back. Walking and swimming are great exercises to improve your overall fitness.

Some exercises can strengthen your back and help prevent injury. Gently stretching your back muscles can help. Follow these steps:

Proper Lifting

Lifting improperly is a common cause of back problems. You should always lift heavy items with your legs instead of your back. When lifting heavy objects, don't bend over. Instead, bend at your knees and keep your back straight. Use these guidelines for safe lifting:

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can positively impact every area of your life, and it can also help you keep your back healthy. Carrying extra weight on your body puts additional strain on your back which can lead to pain and other problems over time. Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Do Not Smoke

By now, you know all the negative ways smoking impacts your health. But did you smoking can also affect the health of your back? Smoke and nicotine can cause your spine to age at a faster rate, which means you will begin to experience the negative effects of aging sooner. If you need help quitting smoking, talk to your doctor. There are many options available to help you quit.

Sit Up Straight

Good posture can contribute to a healthy back. Good posture helps to maintain the natural curves of your spine. Make the extra effort to stand tall, sit up straight, and use proper lifting techniques. When standing:

When sitting:

When Injury Occurs ^

Even in with careful lifting, good posture, and a healthy lifestyle, back injury may occur. If your back begins to hurt, try lying on your back on the floor with pillows under your knees. Or, you can try bending your hips and knees and putting your feet on a chair. These positions can help take the pressure of your back. Resting for a day or so may help. Do not rest too long however, since this can slow down your recovery. Even if it hurts, your should spend a few minutes each hour up walking around.

For a minor back injury, heating pads may relieve pain. Use heat for 20-30 minutes at a time. Never go to sleep with a heating pad on.

If using ice, make sure to wrap it in a towel first before applying it for 15-20 minutes at a time. Never put ice directly on your skin.

If you have ongoing back pain, talk to your doctor. You may be advised to take an over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Call your doctor if back pain:

You should also call your doctor if you lose control of going to the bathroom.

Having a healthy back is important. Take the time to incorporate these simple steps into your daily life to keep your back healthy and strong.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Acute low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 25, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 15, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Information from your family doctor: low back pain. Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(10):2191-2192. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2191.html. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Low back pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00311. Updated December 2013. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Preventing back pain at work and at home. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175. Last updated March 2012. Accessed January 27, 2016.

Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 3/25/2014