The majority of Americans will suffer from back pain at some point during their life, and while there is no way to fully prevent back pain from occurring, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing chronic back pain and to keep your spine healthy.

1. Lift and Carry Correctly

One of the most common causes of lower back pain is pulling a muscle by not lifting or carrying heavy items properly. Always lift with your legs and not your back, and try to keep the object as close to your body as possible the whole time. For extremely heavy or large objects, push rather than pull them, using your arms and legs. Know you limits and don’t be afraid to ask for help if needed.

2. Maintain Good Posture

Avoid slouching, and try to stand, sit, walk and lift in the position that puts the least strain on the supporting muscles and ligaments. Proper ergonomics can help reduce a lot of stress on both the lower and upper back, thus reducing the risk of developing back and spine issues. Make sure that your workspace (such as your desk and chair) is adjusted based on your height and functionality. When sitting, your knees should be at a 90 degree angle, and your feet should rest comfortably on the floor. Moreover, if your job requires long periods of sitting or standing, or an other repetitive activity, make sure to take regular breaks.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Carrying extra weight puts additional strain on your back. A body mass index (BMI) of between 18-25 is generally considered healthy, and if your BMI is higher than that (and it’s not mostly muscles), losing weight may help reduce your risk of developing chronic back pain, as well as a number of other conditions.

4. Stay Active and Exercise Properly

Being active can help keep your spine healthy in a number of ways. First, it can help you maintain a healthy weight, and thereby reduce the strain on your back muscles, joints and tendons. Second, exercise, especially when consisting of a combination of strength training, aerobics and stretching, will help make your more resistant to injuries, speed up the recovery if you do get injured, and help improve your overall fitness level.

By stretching your back and neck, as well as your legs and other major muscles, you increase your flexibility and help maintain a good range of motion and normal joint function.

5. Stay Hydrated

Being chronically under-hydrated can cause the intervertebral discs of the spine to begin to shrink due to the loss of water. This in turn can lead to a higher risk of developing certain disc conditions, such as bulging or ruptured discs, which can become progressively more painful; moreover, this also contributes to the loss of structural health of the spine.

6. Sleep Well

Adequate sleep is essential to living a healthy life, as the body repairs itself during rest. Ideally, you should sleep on your side rather than on your stomach or back, as this puts too much pressure on your spine. If you are prone to back problems, invest in a supportive mattress and pillow. Alternatively, putting a pillow under your knees when lying on your back, or putting a pillow between your knees when lying on the side can help reduce pressure further.

7. Wear Good Shoes

Shoes should be comfortable, well balanced and flexible. Avoid wearing heels or flip-flops for long periods of time.

8. Stop Smoking

Smoking has been shown to be associated with an increased rate of back pain, and injuries tend to heal slower in smokers. Furthermore, smoking negatively affects your overall wellbeing, which in turn further increases the risk of developing back pain.

9. Know Your Body and Pay Attention to Warning Signs

Lastly, know and listen to your body! If performing a certain activity is painful, it’s probably not good for you. If back pain goes untreated for prolonged periods, it can worsen and will get much more troublesome to treat, so prevention is key to keeping your spine healthy!

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