Small changes can have a big impact
"Most people with back pain tend to blame it on one thing they did or didn't do," says Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Rush University Medical Center. "But it's usually the buildup of a number of factors that is responsible."
On the other hand, she adds, a number of simple daily habits can also help prevent or minimize the problem. To help stave off back pain or ease the pain you already experience, Dugan suggests the following adjustments in your daily life:
- When standing, keep your back straight and distribute your weight evenly between your toes and heels.
- When picking something up, take a wide stance and bend using your knees and hips instead of bending from the waist.
- When sitting, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Crossing your legs puts pressure on your lower back.
- When working at the computer, make sure the computer screen is at eye level so that you don't tilt your chin up. If you use a laptop, prop it up so that the screen is at eye level and set up an external keyboard and mouse that allows your elbows to sit at a 90 degree angle.
- When carrying a bag or purse, lighten your load so that you're carrying less than 10 percent of your body weight. (For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, your bag or purse should weigh less than 13 pounds.) If you need to carry heavy items, place them toward the bottom of the bag and alternate your bag between shoulders throughout the day.
In addition to developing these habits, other good preventive strategies include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and strengthening your core muscles, which can prevent pain caused by straining some muscles to compensate for the weakness of others.