Minor aches and pains are part of life. But back and neck pain can be debilitating. That’s true whether acute and persistent pain is from an injury or chronic pain.
We know some of the main causes of back and neck pain. Things like sitting all day (especially with poor posture) and lack of core strength are big culprits. But there are other causes you may not think about as much, from what you eat to how you sleep.
While injuries and accidents can always happen, prevention can go a long way toward keeping your spine healthy. Below, we’ve collected nine tips on how to prevent back pain from taking over your life.
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Tips to Prevent Neck and Back Pain
1. Focus on your posture
Many of us spend hours sitting at desks every day and fall into slouching mode without even being aware. Sit up straight, press shoulders down, and sit back all the way into the chair (push your rear end back, too). Sitting in a chair with a hard back can help encourage these posture fixes.
2. Use proper lifting techniques
To lift a 25-pound box from the floor, you have to use about 700 pounds of back muscle force! Instead of bending over at the waist, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and use your legs to lift. Lift slowly (no jerking) and keep the load close to your body as you lift.
3. Avoid sitting for too long, especially in unsupportive seating
Nothing wrecks your back like a weekend spent in the bleachers at your kid’s sporting event. Consider buying a portable stadium seat, which attaches to any standard bleacher and provides back support. But anytime you have to sit for a long period, take frequent standing or walking breaks.
4. Don’t smoke
Not only does smoking increase your risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, it also damages your spine. Smoking is a major cause of degenerative disc disease (the discs that cushion the bones of your spine). Smoking reduces the flow of nutrients to your discs, which they need to stay strong and heal after injury.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
While bodies can function normally at a variety of weights, being overweight can start to compromise your spine. Having extra weight in your stomach can pull your pelvis forward and strain your lower back. Being overweight can make conditions like arthritis worse, and it’s also linked to sciatic pain.
6. Stay hydrated
Are you drinking at least six to eight glasses a day of water? Surprisingly, hydration is linked to spine health. Water helps keep your connective tissue more elastic and the discs in between the bones of your spine well-cushioned.
7. Engage in general stress management and relaxation techniques.
When tense, you’re more likely to hunch your shoulders, take choppy breaths, and contract your muscles. To relax, try 10 to 15 breaths of belly breathing, either lying down or sitting comfortably. To belly breathe, inhale and push your belly out, then exhale and let it deflate.
8. Exercise regularly
Aim to get moderate intensity exercise most days of the week, such as walking for 30 to 60 minutes. Exercising with lighter weights, but higher repetitions, is a safer way to do resistance training. Beware of intense circuit training or other strenuous programs not aimed at beginners.
9. Sleep with the right kind of pillows
Pillows can wind up causing a lot of neck pain. Aim to sleep with a pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral position (not too flat; not too fluffy). For back pain, propping pillows under your legs or rear end can help relieve nerve pain when you sleep.
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