Of all the aches and pains your body can suffer, back pain may be the worst kind of torture. Not least because the solution often involves improving strength and returning to activity—two goals that can be difficult to achieve when you’re in terrible pain.
If you’re trying to improve your health and become more active, do yourself and your spine a favor. Take precautions, and consider these tips:
Work your core.
Though it has other important jobs, your lower back is also a weight-moving machine, which means it needs muscles to work properly. A strong core supports your spine and ensures that it doesn’t take on more of the burden than it should. But strengthening your core means doing more than just sit-ups. Be patient when learning these strength routines, as it takes time to build unfamiliar muscles. Use controlled motions, not abrupt ones. And add reps gradually.
Watch your posture.
Poor posture has many negative effects, but one of the biggest is the strain it puts on your spine, especially the lumbar discs that provide cushioning. The good news is it’s easy to fix. Stand up straight, use an ergonomic chair when sitting, and set reminders to yourself to check on your alignment regularly during the day. Your smartphone can help. Make sure to spend a few minutes on your feet and moving for every hour you sit.
Use safe-lifting techniques.
It’s not just lifting with your legs. Bend at the knees, keep your chest forward, and lead with your hips. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips, and hold the weight of whatever you’re lifting close to your body.
Flexibility is important for back health. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons that help to control the spine must to be able to move properly to keep your spine in alignment. A program of stretches specifically designed for the spine will help you comfortably follow the tips above and avoid injury. As with any stretching regimen, wear loose, comfortable clothes. Move slowly and avoid bouncing in the stretch. Hold stretches for 20-30 seconds, then ease out of them slowly.
Make healthy choices.
Your spine health is affected by the health of your entire body. Drink plenty of water, avoid excessive alcohol consumption and inflammatory foods, and if you smoke, find a way to quit. The lifestyle and exercise tips above will help, too. If exercise is difficult at the moment, use small goals to get moving gradually: Go up and down the stairs a few times in a row, walk with a friend, or sit on an exercise ball for 20 minutes.
Of course, even the best habits can’t protect you against every possible injury, not to mention the pains and discomforts that can result from aging. If you’re experiencing back or other joint pain, your doctor may recommend a specialist who can offer solutions.