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What's Up Magazine

Keeping a Healthy Back

Jan 27, 2015 09:00AM ● By Cate Reynolds

Eight ways to maintain a strong spine and prevent back pain

Whether it’s in the form of a mild ache or persistent, stabbing agony, back pain leads to millions of doctor visits each year—and millions in lost wages.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates each year, one in two people will experience back pain severe enough to be aware of it. In addition, one in five people will have back pain so severe, it will limit the work he or she can do.

Among the most common causes of back pain are poor posture, muscle spasms, strained muscles or ligaments from over-activity and lifting something improperly. But in some cases, back pain is caused by structural problems, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis, disk degeneration and disk injuries, including disk tears and disk herniation. It can be caused by pregnancy or conditions like kidney stones, tumors or stress.

While back problems can strike at any age, there are ways to keep your spine strong and potentially avoid future pain.

Use proper lifting techniques – Lift heavy items with your legs and not your back. Bend at your knees and keep your back straight.

Maintain good posture – Keep your ears aligned with your shoulders and your shoulder blades down and retracted. Good posture decreases spinal stress. It also leads to deeper breathing.

Try Pilates – This exercise regimen focuses on stretching and strengthening the core abdominal muscles. It can also prevent and reduce back pain and improve posture when done correctly and under the supervision of a trained instructor.

Perform aerobic exercise – Cardiovascular exercises like swimming, biking and walking can increase mobility and improve circulation. They can also strengthen core muscles close to the spine.

Stretch your hamstrings – Lie on your back and then bend one knee. Place an exercise band or towel under the ball of your bent foot. Next, straighten your knee and gently pull back on the band or towel. You should feel a stretch through the back of your leg. Hold this pose for at least 15 seconds. Then, repeat the exercise with the opposite leg.

Eat a healthy diet – Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats build lean muscles that support the spine. If you have back pain, ask your doctor about adding a multivitamin with B-complex and omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Studies have shown they can decrease pain in spinal nerves.

Avoid smoking – Smoking can cause your spine to age and lead to development of low back pain.

Sleep on your back or side – These positions place less pressure on your back than sleeping on your stomach. If you’re a side sleeper, alternate sides, and place a pillow between your knees to keep your hips, pelvis and spine aligned. If you’re a back sleeper, place a pillow under your knees for support.

Ask your primary care physician or orthopedic specialist about these and additional ways to keep your spine strong. And remember: If you have back pain that causes numbness or tingling, severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest or pain combined with trouble urinating, weakness, leg numbness or fever, see a doctor immediately.

“Keeping a Healthy Back” provided by University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.