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Back Pain Health Center

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How to Wreck Your Back

You may be setting yourself up for back pain. Find out how to stop it before it starts.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

For many people, back pain seems like an unavoidable discomfort. But you may have more control than you think.

You can wreck your back in any number of ways, but a few major offenders stand out: Not stretching, not paying attention to your movements, and years of wear and tear, says Nick Shamie, MD, associate professor of orthopedic neurosurgery at UCLA and a spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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Here are five habits that put your spine at risk and simple strategies to stop them before the damage is done.

Back Wrecker #1: Weekend Warfare

"Most often, I see people who injured themselves during a weekend basketball game or a round of golf," Shamie says. "These people think they're athletes, but don't train like the pros, and as a result, their backs suffer."

Tackling those "Honey Do" lists at home can also set you up for injury, especially if you were idle for most of the week. Cleaning out the garage, bending over a workbench, or spending hours in the yard or garden can be just as hard on your back as anything you do on a playing field.

Prevent it: "The only preventive solution I've found for back pain is exercise," says Michael Hisey, MD, orthopedic surgeon and president of the Texas Back Institute in Denton, Texas. "The fix is to stretch and strengthen your core muscles."

The obliques -- the abdominal muscles on your sides -- are especially important for back stability, Hisey tells WebMD.

Hisey's tip: Get an inflatable exercise ball. Use it in your workouts and sit on it, instead of a chair, to engage your abs.

Back Wrecker #2: Poor Lifting Technique

"Improper bending and lifting causes back injury; that's all there is to it," says Dan McMackin, a spokesman for UPS.

Prevent it: Engage your abs to help support your back. Here are the basic principles that UPS uses for safe lifting, according to McMackin:

  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Don't bend at your waist.
  • Keep the object close to you. The farther away you hold it from your body, the more it stresses your back.
  • Never hold an item higher than your armpit or lower than your knees.
  • Don't move something that weighs more than 20% of your body weight.
  • Don't pivot, twist, or turn while lifting. Point your feet at the item you're lifting and face it as you pick it up. Change direction with your feet, not your waist.
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