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 straight 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 so there will be less strain on your back.

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

There are different types of back pain.

Back pain can be acute or chronic. It can feel like a sudden, sharp pain or a dull, constant ache.

Acute back pain 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 on its own, without any treatment. Find out when to call a doctor or nurse about back pain.

Chronic back 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. You are more likely to experience back pain as you get older.

Many people hurt their backs when they lift, push, or pull something that's too heavy – especially at work.

You may also be at risk for back pain if you:

  • Have poor posture (don’t stand straight 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 an injury, a health condition, or a disability, ask your doctor or nurse which types of exercise are best for you. Get tips on staying active with a disability.

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Take Action: Prevent Injuries

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.

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 your 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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