To avoid back pain, you must reduce excess stresses and strains on your back and ensure your back is strong and supple.
If you have recurring bouts of back pain, consider:
- losing any excess weight – you can use the body mass index BMI calculator to find out whether you are a healthy weight for your height
- wearing flat shoes with cushioned soles – these can reduce the stress on your back
- avoiding sudden movements or muscle strain
- trying to reduce any stress, anxiety and tension.
How you sit, stand and lie down can have an important effect on your back. The following tips should help you maintain a good posture.
Stand upright, with your head facing forward and your back straight. Balance your weight evenly on both feet and keep your legs straight.
You should be able sit upright with support in the small of your back. Your knees and hips should be level and your feet should be flat on the floor (use a footstool if necessary). Some people find it useful to use a small cushion or rolled-up towel to support the small of the back.
If you use a keyboard, make sure that your forearms are horizontal and your elbows are at right angles.
Make sure that your lower back is properly supported. Correctly positioning your wing mirrors will prevent you from having to twist around. Foot controls should be squarely in front of your feet. If driving long distances, take regular breaks so that you can stretch your legs.
Your mattress should be firm enough to support your body while supporting the weight of your shoulders and buttocks, keeping your spine straight. If your mattress is too soft, place a firm board – ideally 2cm thick – on top of the base of your bed and under the mattress. Support your head with a pillow, but make sure that your neck is not forced up at a steep angle.
Exercise is both an excellent way to prevent back pain and to reduce any back pain you might have. However, if you have chronic back pain (back pain that has lasted for more than 3 months), consult your doctor or physiotherapist before starting any exercise program.
Exercises such as walking or swimming strengthen the muscles that support your back without putting any strain on it or subjecting it to a sudden jolt.
Activities such as yoga or pilates can improve the flexibility and the strength of your back muscles. It is important that you carry out these activities under the guidance of a properly qualified instructor.
Many people injure their back when doing everyday chores at home or work, such as lifting, gardening or using a vacuum cleaner. 'Warming up' your back with some gentle stretching before you start these chores can help to prevent injury.
Lifting and handling
One of the biggest causes of back injury, especially at work, is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling objects can help to prevent back pain.
- Think before you lift – can you manage the lift? Are there any handling aids you can use? Where is the load going?
- Start in a good position – your feet should be apart, with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance. When lifting, let your legs take the strain – bend your back, knees and hips slightly, but do not stoop or squat. Tighten your stomach muscles to pull your pelvis in. Do not straighten your legs before lifting as you may strain your back on the way up.
- Keep the load close to your waist for as long as possible, with the heaviest end nearest to you.
- Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways, especially when your back is bent. Your shoulders should be level and should face in the same direction as your hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than lifting and twisting at the same time.
- Keep your head up – once you have the load secure, look ahead, not down at the load.
- Know your limits – there is a big difference between what you can lift and what you can safely lift. If in doubt, get help.
- Push rather than pull – if you have to move a heavy object across the floor, it is better to push it rather than pull it.
- Distribute the weight evenly – if you are carrying shopping bags or luggage, try to distribute the weight evenly on both sides of your body.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about back pain, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Source: NHS Choices, UK (Preventing back pain)
Last reviewed: June 2017