Back pain is one of the most common health problems today. In fact, most people experience back pain at some point in their lives.

Normal aging and some physically demanding occupations often cause discs to wear out. Bad posture and poor movement patterns can speed up the process.

Signs and Symptoms of Back Problems

Symptoms of back pain range from mild to severe. The most common signs of back problems include pain and stiffness anywhere along your spine from the base of your neck to your hips. Pain may be sharp and localized in your neck, middle or lower back, especially after lifting something heavy.

Chronic aching in the middle or lower back may occur after standing or sitting for long periods of time. Other symptoms may include pain that radiates from the lower back down the thighs and into the calf and toes. Numbness or tingling may also be present. Severe muscle spasms in the lower back may you from standing up straight.

Risk Factors

Anyone can have back pain, but your risk of back pain can increase with age, heredity, certain activities, physical fitness and cigarette smoking.

Back pain typically begins between the ages of thirty and forty. The risk of back pain increases with age. Some causes of back pain, such as disc disease, may run in families.

Activities like heavy lifting, twisting, pushing, or pulling can increase the risk of back pain. Back pain is more common among people who are inactive. Obesity is also an important risk factor. Smoking cigarettes can keep your discs from getting the nutrition they need, increasing your risk of developing low back pain.

Keeping Your Back Healthy

Good Posture

Certain positions place more strain on your spine than others. Maintaining proper posture in all positions helps prevent back pain and injury by distributing your weight along your spine. To improve your posture, follow these steps when standing or seated:

  • Breathe deeply.
  • Relax your shoulders, hips, and knees.
  • Think of your ears, shoulders, and hips as a series of dots.
  • Now, adjust your body to connect the dots in a straight line.
  • Use your abdominal muscles to tuck your buttocks in just a bit, if necessary.

Tips for Daily Motion

As you sit, walk, bend, or lift, your back is always working. You can reduce wear and tear on your back by maintaining good posture when you move. Bend at your knees and hips, not your waist. Always lift with your legs, by squatting, bending your knees, and tightening your abdominal muscles. Do not lift with your back. Always face what you are lifting, and hold loads close to your body. Turn with your feet and legs, not your back. Do not twist your back. Know your limits. Take breaks, and ask for help with heavy loads.

Exercise Helps

When the muscles in your abdomen, hips, and legs are strong and flexible, they do a better job of supporting your back, making injury less likely. Exercise can also help minimize some kinds of back pain, and may help you cope with a back injury if you already have one.

It is important to get the amount of exercise that is right for you. Either too little or too much activity can contribute to back pain, and getting a lot of exercise after being inactive all week is more likely to cause painful back injuries.

It is important to get some form of exercise every day, but you do not have to knock yourself out to keep your back healthy. Low-impact exercises like Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga, weight training, swimming, and walking can strengthen your back and are good for the discs that cushion your vertebrae.

What to Do

A few simple steps can prevent or minimize most back pain:

  • Pay attention to your posture. Use proper posture when sitting, standing, and walking.
  • Avoid slouching or leaning forward while sitting or driving.
  • Get regular exercise throughout the week. Do not be a weekend warrior! Sleep on your back or side on a quality mattress.
  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • Always talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you may have.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

Back pain usually goes away eventually, with or without treatment. You should contact your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Numbness or tingling,
  • Severe pain, numbness, or weakness that does not improve with medication and rest,
  • Pain after a fall or injury, or
  • Back pain accompanied by trouble urinating; weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs; fever; chills; or unintended weight loss.

What We Have Learned

Your back is correctly aligned when your ears, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line.
True or False
The answer is True.

Low-impact exercises can strengthen your back and are good for your discs.
True or False
The answer is True.

You should call your healthcare provider if you have back pain accompanied by weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs.
True or False
The answer is True.