U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Prevent Back Pain

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

One of the best ways to prevent back pain is to keep your back muscles strong. Follow these steps to help protect your back and prevent back pain:

  • Do back-strengthening and stretching exercises at least 2 or 3 times a week.
  • Stand and sit up straight.
  • Avoid heavy lifting. If you do lift something heavy, bend your knees and keep your back straight. This way, your leg muscles will do most of the work.
  • Stay active and eat a balanced diet.
  • If you are overweight, lose weight to help lower the strain on your back.

To learn more about back pain, check out Handout on Health: Back Pain.

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The Basics: Types of Back Pain

There are different kinds of back pain.
Back pain can feel like a dull, constant ache or a sudden, sharp pain. Back pain often gets better on its own. Find out when to call a doctor or nurse.

Back pain can be acute or chronic.
Acute back pain is pain that lasts from a few days to a few weeks. It’s often caused by an accident, a fall, or moving something that’s too heavy. Acute back pain usually gets better without any treatment.

Chronic back pain is pain that lasts for more than 3 months. It’s much less common than acute back pain. Most chronic back pain can be treated without surgery. Find out about ways to treat chronic back pain.

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The Basics: Am I at Risk?

Who gets back pain?
Most people have back pain at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor or nurse. People are more likely to experience back pain as they get older.

Many people hurt their backs at work when they lift, push, or pull something that's too heavy. You may also be at risk for back pain if you:

  • Have poor posture (don’t stand and sit up straight)
  • Aren’t physically active
  • Are overweight
  • Fall or have an accident
  • Have a health problem that can cause back pain (like arthritis or cancer)
  • Smoke
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Take Action!

Take Action: Get Active

Take care of your back to avoid back pain. Preventing back pain is easier than treating it.

Strengthen your back.
Physical activity can make your back stronger and lower your risk of back pain.

If you have a health condition or disability, your doctor can help you choose the best activities for you. Get tips on staying active with a disability.

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Take Action: Good Posture

Focus on good posture.
Good posture can help prevent back pain.

  • Try not to slouch when standing and sitting.
  • Sit up straight with your back against the back of your chair and your feet flat on the floor. Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips.
  • Stand tall with your head up and shoulders back.
  • If you can, switch between standing and sitting so you aren't in the same position for too long.
  • Find out how to have good posture while sitting at a computer.
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Take Action: Prevent Injuries

Lift correctly.
Lift things with your legs, not your back. Keep your back straight and bend at the knees or at the hips. Get help if the load is too heavy for you to lift alone. Get more tips on safe lifting.

Prevent back injuries at work.
Back injuries are the most common type of workplace injury. Staying safe at work can help you prevent injuries.

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Take Action: Healthy Habits

Watch your weight.
Staying at a healthy weight lowers you risk of back pain. If you are overweight, losing weight in a healthy way can reduce the strain on your back.

Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis (“os-tee-oh-puh-ROH-sis”). Osteoporosis makes your bones weaker and more likely to fracture (break).

Spine fractures from osteoporosis are a leading cause of back pain.

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