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Preventing back pain



Keeping your back Strong

Strengthening your back through exercise is one of the best ways to keep back pain at bay. It can also be very helpful in treating back pain.


Choose a low-impact, gentle exercise that will help strengthen the muscles in your back, without the risk of strain or sudden jolts. Swimming, yoga and pilates are very good for improving flexibility and strength and once you feel your back is strong enough, you can graduate to something more energetic such as jogging, cycling or dancing.


Pick something you enjoy so that it is more likely to become a habit. You should aim to exercise three to five times a week for 30 minutes each time.


Stretching is another key way of strengthening your back. It can help to warm up the muscles in your back before starting to exercise and can even be helpful in preparing your back muscles prior to household chores or gardening. But the best way of maximising the benefits of stretching is to make them a part of your everyday routine. See the ‘stretching’ section of this guide for more information and a link to a printable back stretches handout.




Lifting can strain your back and lifting badly can lead to injury. Follow these simple tips to avoid damaging your back:


·         Think before lifting. Plan the lift. Can handling aids be used? Where is the load going? Is the load too heavy for one person? Do you need help?


·         Adopt a stable position. Your feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load, if it's on the ground).


·         Be prepared to move your feet during the lift to maintain their stability.


·         Get a good hold. The load should be hugged as close as possible to the body at hip level.


·         At the start of the lift, slight bending of the back, hips and knees is preferable to fully bending the back or fully bending the hips and knees.


·         Don't bend the back any further while lifting. This can happen if the legs begin to straighten too early during the lift, putting pressure on the back.


·         Change directions with your feet, not your back. To avoid a twist, take a step or steps when necessary.


·         When lowering, face the place you have selected and lower the load slowly, bending your knees, never your back and let your legs do the work.


Sitting in the wrong position can cause or aggravate back pain. Try to follow these simple tips to combat poor sitting habits:


·         Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders down and back, elbows relaxed at your sides. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.


·         Avoid crossing your legs. This weakens your core muscles and can lead to stiffness in your low back and pelvic area.


·         Your feet should be firmly on the floor, but if it's more comfortable, use a footrest.


·         Your thighs should be at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down.


·         Rest your elbows and arms on your chair's armrests or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.


·         When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don't twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.


·         Don't sit in one position for long stretches of time. Get up and move around at least every 45 minutes, however, every 20 minutes is better. Don't forget to stretch.


·         When standing up, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist.


Driving can prove a real challenge for backs, especially if you drive for extended periods of time. Here are some tips to help support and protect your back:


·         Sit with your buttocks touching the back of the seat. Adjust the seat so that your leg is slightly bent when you press a pedal to the floor.


·         For maximum back support, adjust seat depth so the distance between the edge of the seat and the back of your knees is about two or three fingers wide.


·         Your shoulders should be down and back against the backrest. They should remain in contact with the backrest when you turn the steering wheel.


·         Adjust the angle of the backrest so that you can easily reach the steering wheel with your arms bent.


·         If you feel your seat isn't giving good support, try a rolled-up towel or lumbar roll in the small of your back.


·         Adjust the tilt of the seat so that you can easily press the pedals down to the floor. Your thighs should rest lightly on the seat cushion without pressing on it.


·         The top of the headrest should be aligned with the top of your head. Adjust the angle to allow under an inch of space between your head and the headrest.


·         While driving, keep your chin in and don't grip the wheel too hard. Relax your shoulders and keep your head upright.


·         To reduce the risk of lower back pain, avoid sitting still for lengthy periods and stop regularly to walk and stretch.


·         Try to avoid twisting when getting out of the car. Turn your whole body towards the door; lower your feet to the ground and then stand up.


Computers are probably the biggest problem when it comes to back or neck strain. Ensuring your workspace is set up correctly will help in reducing the potential for harm:


·         Your keyboard should be directly in front of you. A keyboard that is off-centre can cause bad posture.


·         Turn your chair sideways to check that your elbow is level with the spacebar for the correct height.


·         If your keyboard is at the proper height, you should be able to keep your wrists straight while typing. This posture will reduce the risk of injury.


·         A palm or wrist support can help during rest periods from using the keyboard. Place the support under your palms, not your wrists.


·         Your mouse should be close to your keyboard. You should be able to keep your wrist straight, shoulders relaxed and elbows by your side while using it.


·         If you need to look back and forth between your monitor and documents, place your hard copy in such a way so as to avoid twisting your neck.


·         Consider a document holder, which should be placed close to and at the same height as the screen.


·         Place your phone close to you to avoid repetitive reaching.


·         Avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder as this can cause neck pain and stiffness. Consider a headset or speaker phone.

The Structure of the back


The back is a complex structure that consists of:


·         24 small bones (vertebrae), that support the  weight of your upper body and form a protective canal for the spinal cord


·         Shock-absorbing intervertebral discs that cushion the bones and let the spine bend


·         Ligaments that hold the vertebrae and discs together


·         Tendons to connect muscles to vertebrae


·         A spinal cord, which carries nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body


·         Nerves and muscles


The lumbar region is the lower part of the back and is made up of five vertebrae. This region supports the entire weight of your upper body which is why most cases of back pain develop in the lower back.

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