Staying in the Game: How to Keep Your Back Healthy
Learn how certain motions can raise your risk for injuries.

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Staying in the Game: How to Keep Your Back Healthy

Your back is a complex system of bones, muscles, nerves and tissue. The lower back supports your body weight and provides you the flexibility to turn, twist and bend. It's no wonder that most people at some point get aches and pains in the lower back.

Some motions and activities can aggravate your back, especially as you age. You can help keep your back healthy by taking a few precautions.

Here are 10 healthy back tips from the National Institutes of Health.

  1. If you want to start an exercise program after being inactive, ease into it, perhaps with some low-impact exercises. Your doctor might give you a list of activities that can strengthen your back and increase your flexibility. Always warm up your muscles before stretching. For example, try a few minutes of walking before stretching. And stretching after your activity may help prevent injury.
  2. Always stretch your muscles before doing any strenuous exercise or activity.
  3. Maintain good posture, avoiding slouching when you sit or hunching when you stand. Make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height.
  4. Try to vary your position and take frequent breaks to stretch if you sit for long periods of time. Your chair should allow you to sit with shoulders back, stomach tucked in and lower back supported. Try not to rest your wrists on a hard desk surface. You might try a footrest to elevate your feet.
  5. Choose comfortable shoes with low heels. For women, this means ditching the high heels!
  6. Pay attention to your sleep position. Sleeping on your side on a firm surface with little curvature in your spine is good for the back.
  7. Are you a caregiver who may need to help a loved one sit up or move to a different spot? Don't try to do this alone. Ask for help.
  8. Take care when lifting heavy objects. When you lift, let your knees do the work. Tuck in your stomach muscles, keep your head down and your back straight. Your head should be in line with your back.
  9. Eat a healthy diet. Make sure you get bone-healthy foods with vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. Carrying excess weight around your middle can weaken back muscles, so try to lose weight if you need to.
  10. Do you smoke? Using tobacco reduces blood flow to your lower back and is hard on the spinal discs that provide cushion for the bones in your back. More reasons to quit smoking!
By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 01/29/2002
Updated on 05/13/2014
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Flexibility exercises for young athletes.
  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet.
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Low back pain.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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