How to Keep Your Back Healthy

Aiming for Good Health? We've Got Your Back.

Better backs and joints begin here. The right posture, exercise and lifestyle will help you stay healthy and pain-free. We’ll show you what to do and how to do it.

Whether you're recovering from surgery – or trying to avoid it – these tips and techniques will help ensure that your back and joints become your healthy body's strongest supporters.

Keep Your Back Healthy

Be kind to your back and you’ll improve your chances that your back will be kind to you. There are many things you can do to keep your back in tip-top shape. Here are some suggestions*:
  • Posture matters. If you experience back or neck pain, check your posture. When standing, placing one foot in front of the other relieves pressure on your lower back. Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips when sitting. Use a step stool when reaching for things that are higher than your shoulders. When sleeping, put a pillow under your knees if you’re on your back, or between your knees if you’re on your side.
  • Get up and move. Simple daily exercise such as walking, swimming or biking in addition to specific back strengthening exercises, will help keep your back happy and healthy.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Watch your weight. Added weight puts extra strain on your back. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet. And stop smoking. Smokers are more prone to back pain than non-smokers.
  • Lift with your legs. Tackling a heavy item can compromise your back’s health. Kneel to pick up a heavy object and lift with your legs, keeping the object as close to you as possible. Splitting a heavy load into lighter loads makes it easier and safer to carry.

*Tips from the North American Spine Society.

Tips for Lifting

One of the most common causes of back pain and injury is lifting heavy objects improperly. The most important thing to remember when confronted with a heavy item that needs to be moved, is to lift with your legs, not with your back.

The old adage, "Put your back into it," really should be "Put your legs into it." Squatting down to be nearer to the object and picking it up as you stand with your legs reduces stress and strain that hoisting can put on your back.

Be especially careful not to lift and twist or turn at the same time. The two actions combined put your back at risk for serious injury. Bend at the knees, lift the object up and turn your whole body with your feet. If you are lifting something heavy with another person, be sure to coordinate your movements in unison.

Exercises for Your Back

The key to a healthy back is keeping it strong and flexible. Here are exercises specifically designed to keep your back healthy.

  • Take a hike. Walking strengthens muscles, improves circulation, enhances flexibility and good posture, supports weight control and strengthens bones.
  • Flatten that stomach. Strong abs are important because they surround approximately two-thirds of the lower part of the body and they help support the lower back and pelvis. Strengthening your core will encourage a more stable spine and reduce the potential for injuring your spine.
  • Mix it up. Variety may be the spice of life, but it's also a great tip to incorporate into your exercise routine. Variety increases the chances that you will continue exercising on a regular basis.
  • Stretching makes sense. Staying flexible is important, and flexibility exercises can be a fun! Using items such as towels and resistance balls adds variety to your stretching routine. Your back will thank you for staying limber and loose.

Here are three easy-to-perform, back-strengthening exercises.

  • Hip Bridge: Lay flat on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees, position your arms and hands straight along your body. Put your feet flat on the floor, slightly apart. Slowly lift your buttocks off the floor as you tighten your abdominal muscles until your knees are in a straight line with your shoulders. Hold the position for several seconds, then slowly resume your original position. Repeat the exercise five times.
  • Alternate leg lifts: Lay flat on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees, position your arms and hands straight along your body. Put your feet flat on the floor, slightly apart. Tighten your abdominal muscles and slowly lift your left knee up. Hold the position for several seconds, then lower your foot back to the floor. Repeat the exercise with your right leg. Repeat the exercise five times, alternating legs.
  • Spine Curl: Lay flat on your back on an exercise mat. Bend your knees, wrap your arms around them and gently draw your knees up towards your chest. Hold the position for 30 seconds, until you feel a stretch. Repeat the exercise five times.