According to the American Chiropractic Association, up to 31 million Americans are suffering from lower back pain as you read this. Further, it's estimated that 80% of us will experience it within our lifetimes. While any type of pain is unpleasant, back pain has a more negative effect on the overall quality of life than other types. Back pain is one of the most common causes for people not only missing work, but missing out on some of life's most enjoyable activities. It can make sitting, standing-- or even lying down-- painful. While not all lower back pain is preventable, there are some things you can do to alleviate it as well as reduce your risk factors..

Degenerative Joint Disease

Some types of back pain are caused by conditions such as osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. As we age, the discs between the vertebrae thin and our joints become more compressed. That process results in wearing down protective cartilage. Heat packs can reduce pain and help muscles relax. Frequent movement is recommended for those who suffer from this condition, since inactivity compresses joints further. Low impact exercises such as yoga swimming and Tai Chi increase flexibility. Diet is also an important factor in treating this cause of lower back pain. Foods that contain anti-inflammatory properties include leafy green vegetables, berries, turmeric, garlic, and ginger.

Muscle and Joint Strain

The symptoms of muscle or joint strain include muscle spasms and restricted movement. Common causes of muscle strain include heavy lifting and over-reaching, which results in inflammation and tightening of the affected muscles, tendons and ligaments. To avoid muscle strain in the lower back, it's important to use proper lifting techniques. To treat muscle strain, apply an ice pack for ten minutes to reduce inflammation. Alternating ice packs with hot packs helps loosen tightened muscles. Applying arnica to the strained area has also been shown to be beneficial. Finally, the healing process requires both resting and stretching the muscles to regain flexibility and full range of motion.

Repetitive Strain Injuries

When an action is repeated over a long period of time, it can cause stress to the joints and soft tissues that results in pain and inflammation. Many types of jobs require repetitive motions, such as turning the body in a specific direction. To avoid these types of injuries, it's important to be aware of your movements and attempt to balance them throughout the day. While many patterns of movement are unavoidable, you can help counter their effects by initiating regular movement in the opposite direction. Regular massages are also beneficial for both preventing and treating this type of injury.

Work Posture

Even those who do no heavy lifting, but work sitting at computers can experience lower back pain. Incorrect posture can add up to 90 pounds of stress to the back muscles. A lack of movement combined with poor posture compresses the lower back, resulting in stiffness. It's important to set up your workstation to minimize the risk of back strain. That includes making sure your computer monitor is at or above eye level. Setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to stand and stretch periodically is also a good idea. Experts recommend stretching for two minutes every half hour.

Regular Exercise

Strengthening and toning your muscles through regular exercise is one of the best ways to prevent lower back pain. Ironically, it's estimated that in 2012 alone, 459,978 people were injured while exercising or using exercise equipment at a gym. One of the most common reasons is not warming up sufficiently by stretching the muscles before a workout. Another is failing to take age into account when deciding upon the best exercise regimen. According to Tom Holland, author of Beat the Gym, "Some people can do a 7-minute mile after age 50, but most benefit more from a slow and steady pace. The faster the speed, the greater the chance of pulling a muscle or developing some other lower-body injury." The single most important factor in preventing lower back pain is developing a high level of body awareness.


Taking the time to recognize your habitual patterns of movement can help prevent lower back pain and improve your quality of life.