Preventing Back Pain: The Basics

One of the best ways to prevent back pain is to keep your back muscles strong. Follow these steps to help protect your back and prevent back pain:

  • Do back-strengthening and stretching exercises at least 2 or 3 times a week.
  • Stand and sit up straight.
  • Avoid heavy lifting. If you do lift something heavy, bend your knees and keep your back straight. This way, your leg muscles will do most of the work.
  • Get active and eat a balanced diet. If you are a healthy weight, you will have less strain on your back.

There are different types of back pain.  Back pain can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). It can feel like a sudden, sharp pain or a dull, constant ache.

Acute back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. It’s often caused by an accident, fall, or lifting something that’s too heavy. Acute back pain usually gets better on its own.

Chronic back pain lasts for more than 3 months. It’s much less common than acute back pain. Most chronic back pain can be treated without surgery

Most people have back pain at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people visit a doctor or nurse. You are more likely to experience back pain as you get older. Many people hurt their backs when they lift, push, or pull something that's too heavy.

You may also be at risk for back pain if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Have poor posture (don’t stand and sit up straight)
  • Aren’t physically active
  • Are overweight
  • Fall or have an accident
  • Have a health problem that can cause back pain (like arthritis or cancer)
  • Smoke

Take Action!

Take care of yourself to avoid back pain. Preventing back pain is easier than treating it.

Strengthen your back.

Physical activity can make your back stronger and lower your risk of back pain.

  • Do back-strengthening and stretching exercises at least 2 or 3 times a week.
  • Try a yoga class. It can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve your posture.
  • Stay active. Regular physical activity can help keep your back muscles strong. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week.

If you have an injury, health condition, or disability, ask your doctor or nurse which types of exercise are best for you.

Focus on good posture.

Good posture can help prevent back pain.

  • Try not to slouch when standing and sitting.
  • Sit up straight with your back against the back of your chair and your feet flat on the floor. If possible, keep your knees slightly higher than your hips.
  • Stand tall with your head up and shoulders back.
  • If you can, switch between standing and sitting so you aren't in the same position for too long.

Lift correctly.

Lift things with your legs, not your back. Keep your back straight and bend at your knees or hips. Get help if the load is too heavy for you to lift alone.

Prevent back injuries at work.

Back injuries are the most common type of workplace injury. Staying safe at work can help you prevent injuries. 

Watch your weight.

Staying at a healthy weight lowers your risk of back pain. If you are overweight, losing weight in a healthy way can reduce the strain on your back. 

Get enough calcium and vitamin D.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis (“os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis”). Osteoporosis makes your bones weaker and more likely to fracture (break). 

Spine fractures from osteoporosis are a leading cause of back pain.