by SHANTU PATEL, M.D.; Scripps Coastal Medical Center, Vista

Soothe Your Lower Back

Eight Tips to Avoid Back Pain

scripps_patelIf you’ve been laid low by a sore back, you have plenty of company. About 80 percent of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives, making it the second most common pain condition in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

While back pain has many causes and manifests in different ways, from a dull ache to a sharp pain, the good news is that most lower back pain gets better within a few days or weeks.

Try these eight tips to strengthen your back and prevent pain.

Get moving. You may think staying still and resting is the best remedy for a sore back, but regular physical activity eases inflammation and muscle tension. Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming increases strength so your back muscles function more efficiently. Include core-strengthening exercises to develop stronger abdominal muscles, which also protect your back by providing greater support. Yoga can be especially helpful because it promotes deep breathing and relaxation as well as emphasizing stretching and muscle strength. Stay away from sit-ups, leg lifts, and toe touches if you have chronic back pain.

Watch your weight. Extra pounds can make back pain worse by shifting your center of gravity and putting strain on back.

Stay away from high heels.

Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis, which can lead to a weaker spine and subsequent back pain.

Sleeping position matters. If you can, avoid sleeping on your back or stomach, since these positions add additional strain on your lower back. If you do sleep on your back, try putting a pillow under your knees for more support, and if you have to sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your hips. Your doctor can help advise you about the best sleeping position if you have questions.

Lift with proper form. You have probably seen pictures or graphic representations of the best way to lift items to prevent straining your back. Always bend at the knees to pick up something, with your feet shoulder-width apart, rather than bending at the waist to reach down to the object with your arms. Holding the object close to your body, slowly straighten your legs, keeping your back straight. Avoid twisting your back in any way while lifting objects.

Pay attention to posture. Standing and sitting up straight will help you avoid putting undue strain on your back. If you are sitting, make sure you have a chair with good back support and keep your knees and hips level. Never slouch or lean to the side.

At work, make sure your desk and work area is ergonomically sound. Spending hours at work hunched over a desk can put undue stress on the back. Keep your feet flat on the floor and change your position regularly.

If you experience back pain for more than two weeks, see your primary care doctor.


Shantu Patel, M.D., is an internal medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Vista. Dr. Patel provides comprehensive primary care services with special expertise in geriatrics and travel medicine. When not helping people get well and stay healthy, Dr. Patel enjoys bicycling, traveling, and photography.


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