Huma Sheikh, MD, is a board-certified neurologist, specializing in migraine and stroke, and affiliated with Mount Sinai of New York.
If you’re experiencing back pain, or even a stiff neck, look to your lifestyle. The way you sleep, lift, and twist your body may be responsible. But preventing back pain may actually be the simplest way to deal with it. Follow these 10 tips—you’ll feel better now and ward off any future problems.
Safe lifting involves using your legs to spare your back. Bend your knees, tighten your abdominal muscles, and keep the object being lifted close to your body.
It is also a good idea to be aware of unsafe lifting techniques, so that you can avoid them. Unsafe lifting techniques usually involve positions that will cause you strain when you add a load to them.
Minimize and Avoid Twisting Motions
The use of twisting motions should be carefully monitored and scaled back or eliminated as appropriate. When lifting heavy objects, twisting should be completely avoided.
When doing heavy work, such as housework, try to keep twisting to a minimum too. In other activities, pay close attention to how you are moving your spine as well as any warning signs, such as pain or tightness, that may indicate trouble.
Scale back on the twisting according to the warning signs your body gives you.
Drink Plenty of Water
Our bodies are comprised of approximately 70 percent water. Enough water keeps us fluid, rather than stiff.
Drinking plenty of water enhances the height of intervertebral disks, keeping them the healthy shock absorbers they are.
Water is necessary for nearly every bodily process, so it’s good to have in generous supply—at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses per day. It is almost impossible to drink too much water.
Stay Active and Strengthen Your Abs
Exercise and activity keep the muscles of the spine strong. The most important muscles to strengthen to avoid back pain are the abdominals.
Include stretching in your fitness program to avoid stiffness, which causes pain. Another reason to stay flexible is that stiff muscles are a precursor to injury.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is generally an excellent way to prevent all kinds of diseases and discomforts. For the spine, body weight control avoids compression and loading of the intervertebral disks, prevents postural abnormalities (such as anterior pelvic tilt), and interrupts a sedentary lifestyle which can be responsible for stiff and/or weak muscles.
Research Sleeping Positions
Finding a sleeping position that works for you can help you avoid placing unnecessary strains on your back or neck. Doctors tend to vary when recommending ideal sleep positions. So, trusting your comfort levels and using your own judgement are good accompaniments to their advice.
Warm-Up When Exercising
When exercising, warm-ups are a must. Warm-up means 5-10 minutes of light aerobic activity just prior to the exercise session. Recommendations by experts vary as to whether the warm-up period should include stretching.
The purpose of a warm-up is to gradually acclimate the muscles to a more intense activity level to prevent injury, and therefore pain.
The cool down period after an exercise period must include stretching. During cool down, your muscles are still warm from exercising, so they are very receptive to stretching.
Stretching will be less painful during cool down, as well. Stretching relieves muscle tightness, which is one cause of back pain. Stretching also helps to balance the action of muscles, enhancing ideal alignment and relieving joint strain.
Interrupt Long Periods of Sitting
If you sit for long periods of time, force yourself to get up from your chair as much as your work environment will permit. Sitting loads the spine and compresses the disks, leading to disk problems. Slaving over a computer for long periods of time can also cause neck and posture problems, such as kyphosis .
Try a Holistic Approach
Holistic bodywork techniques and systems are a great way to keep the structures of your spine tuned up for a lifetime.Try any one of there:
- Massage therapy
Back pain is extremely common and can be caused by many simple everyday activities. Help prevent back pain and protect your spine with these important steps.
Back pain can be the result of trauma, such as a fall or a car accident. But most often back pain is the result of an everyday activity done incorrectly — activities as common as twisting to reach or lift an object, sitting at a computer in the same position for hours, bending over to vacuum, and carrying shopping bags. The good news is that back pain prevention isn’t all that difficult, often requiring just a few adjustments that will soon become second nature.
Here are six simple but effective back pain prevention tips.
- Exercise. One of the most important things you can do for back pain prevention is to get up and get moving. Why does exercise prevent back pain? Muscles are meant to move, says Robin Lustig, DC, a chiropractor at New Jersey Total Health Center in Lodi and Pompton Plains, N.J. If you aren’t in good shape, you’re more likely to hurt your back and feel pain when you do even simple movements, such as lifting your child from his crib. “Also, exercise helps keep your joints fluid,” Dr. Lustig says. Another reason exercise prevents back pain is that exercise helps you keep your weight down — being overweight, especially around your stomach, can put added strain on your back.
- Eat right. “If you maintain good eating habits, you not only will maintain a healthy weight, but you also will not put unnecessary stress on your body,” Lustig says. A steady diet of excessively spicy or fast food can strain your nervous system, which is going to create back problems, she adds. Conversely, a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, and whole grains will keep your digestive tract on track. “If your intestines are working and functioning properly, that will maintain your spine because your inside and your outside relate to one another,” Lustig says. “I have found that many people who come in complaining of low back pain also have irritated bowels.”
- Sleep sideways. You don’t want to sleep flat on your back. The best position for sleeping is on your side. If you must sleep on your stomach, put a pillow under your lower abdomen to help take stress off your back. Having a supportive mattress and pillow for your head are vital as well. “Getting enough, restful sleep is always an important part of maintaining good health,” Lustig says. Also, if you exercise during the day, you sleep better at night.
- Maintain proper posture. “People sitting at their computer for seven or eight hours a day is keeping me in business,” says Lustig. “People slouch over their computers and their telephones when they’re texting, and they don’t realize the damage they’re doing to their backs and the pain they could be causing.” Be sure to work at an ergonomically correct workstation, both at the office and at home, and break up long periods in front of the computer with stretching exercises. If you practice good posture, you will maintain the natural curves of your back and help keep it strong.
- Reduce stress. You probably don’t realize how much stress can impact your back health. Stress causes you to tense your muscles, and constant tension of this kind can cause back pain. Any activity that helps you reduce stress will help prevent back pain, Lustig says. Stress reduction activities can include yoga, meditation, biofeedback, deep breathing, tai chi, and guided imagery.
- Quit smoking. It’s well known that smoking raises your risk for heart disease and cancer, including lung and colon cancers, but most people don’t realize that smoking also can be a cause of persistent back pain. Research also shows smoking can make existing back pain worse. It’s not entirely clear how smoking affects back health, but one possibility is that it narrows blood vessels. Narrowed blood vessels result in less oxygen and nutrients reaching the spine and, in turn, it becomes more susceptible to injury and slower to heal.
You can reduce your risk for back pain with simple lifestyle changes. However, if you should experience back pain, don’t ignore it. It could be a sign of a more serious condition. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what you should do to find and treat the cause.
When you have back pain, riding in the car for an hour or more can be a real challenge. Consider the following advice and see if it helps on your next road trip.
Get out of the car and stretch often to keep you back happier during road trips.
See: Stretching for Back Pain Relief
1. Get comfortable immediately
Take the time to make sure you’re comfortable from the moment you set off on your trip. The smallest irritant in the beginning of your trip can turn into raging pain later.
- Keep your back pockets empty. Sitting on your wallet, phone, or anything else may throw your spine out of alignment.
- Sit up straight with your knees slightly higher than your hips, and keep your chin pulled in so that your head sits straight on top of your spine.
Sit a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. For airbag safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises sitting with your breastbone at least 10 inches from the steering wheel, 1 and keeping your hands on the wheel at 9 and 3 (the sides rather than the top of the wheel). 2 But don’t sit too far away either, which can cause you to reach too far for wheel and places more stress on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder, and wrists.
Keep your back aligned against the back of your seat. To better support the contour of the inward curve in your lower back, use a small pillow or roll up a scarf and place it between your lower back and the seat. Also, there are many specialized cushions and pillows that can help with sciatica pain and lower back pain.
There is no single best option, and it may take some effort and trial and error on your part to find what works best for you.
2. Make your ride as smooth as possible
Bumps in the road can jar your spine and increase pain. For a smoother ride, consider:
- Riding in a passenger car, rather than an SUV or pickup
- Replacing worn shocks to limit the bounce in the car
- Replacing worn tires to reduce vibration or shaking
- Sitting on a car seat pillow or coccyx cushion to provide more padding between you and the road
3. Get out and move around
Sitting in one position in a car will stiffen up your back muscles and can lead to achiness and possibly muscle spasm. Everyone should ideally take at least a 15-minute break for every 2 hours of driving. If you’re prone to back pain, you may want to take breaks more frequently, such as every 30 to 60 minutes.
Try to plan ahead to schedule stops. Get out of the car so you can move around and stretch. Movement stimulates blood circulation, which brings nutrients and oxygen to your lower back.
4. Shift your position periodically
When possible, try to move a little in your seat. Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is better than sitting still. At a minimum adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15 to 20 minutes. Pump your ankles to keep the blood flowing and provide a slight stretch in your hamstring muscles. Any movement that is safe to do in the car will help you out.
5. Try cold or heat therapy
Many people find that applying cold or heat therapy is a good way to alleviate pain on a long road trip.
- Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Consider bringing a cooler to store reusable ice packs or other cold therapy packs. You can buy cold therapy packs at the store or make your own.
- Heat therapy can help increase blood flow and relax the muscles. Various types of heat therapy are available to buy, such as heat wraps or heat pads. You can also make your own moist heat pack. Some people prefer to place a moist heat pack in the microwave so it’s warm when they go on the trip.
It is recommended to apply ice or heat for only 15 or 20 minutes at a time, then give your skin a rest to recover for at least a couple hours before the next application.
For drivers, it may be best to apply cold or heat therapy while taking a break from driving. Since you are unable to check the skin while driving, it is harder to ensure that the skin is not being damaged during an application of cold or heat therapy. Some cars have heated seats that provide continuous low-level heat, which can be a good option while driving if it is comfortable and provides relief.
6. Support your back with your feet
Supporting your spine starts with bottom-up leverage from your feet. Your feet need to be placed on a firm surface and at the right height to avoid transferring stress to your lower back. It is ideal to have your knees at a right angle. This means, if your seat is too high it is best to put your feet on a footrest. If you are the driver and have the ability to use cruise control for a longer drive, you may want to do this to allow you to have both feet on the floor for periods of time.
7. Employ diversions from pain
Having something planned to take your mind off the pain could make a big difference. Even if you’re the driver, there are still a few options to safely help occupy your mind. Try a new music channel, download a podcast, or listen to an audio book.
Passengers have many additional choices, such as meditating, reading, watching a show, solving a sudoku or crossword puzzle, or playing an electronic game.
If you know that long car rides give your back trouble, you may want to consider taking an over-the-counter NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) right before the trip to reduce the risk of back pain developing or worsening. Some examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Just remember to check with your doctor first and read warning labels carefully to reduce the risk of serious side effects or complications.
Try out these tips and see what works for you. Hopefully at least some of these tips help reduce your back pain while on the road.