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Back pain is the most commonly reported pain condition in America. About 59 million Americans have had a recent episode of back pain, and about 80% of all people will have back pain at some time.

Whether you already struggle with back pain or are trying to prevent back trouble, there are dozens of opportunities in your daily routine for you to protect your back -- or put it at risk.

Help Your Back in Bed

You spend about a third of your life sleeping. One of the best ways to protect your back is with a mattress and sleep positions that support it, says Lauren Polivka, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Balance Gym in Washington, D.C. “If you don’t have the right support system, you can set yourself up for injury.”

Make bedtime a haven for your back by:

  • Getting the right mattress. No matter how comfortable a squishy-soft feather bed may seem at first, a firmer mattress is usually the best for your back, Polivka says. “The types of beds where partners can choose a different level of support can be good, because differences in body structure and size can make what’s comfortable for one person different from another.”
  • Keep your bed in shape. If you’re waking up stiff and sore, check your mattress. How long has it been since you replaced it? “It’s the same as with running shoes: you put a lot of pressure on the mattress and deforming the foam over time,” Polivka explains.  Twice a year, flip the mattress over and check for divots, dents, wear and tear and breakage. If there are spots where the mattress isn’t springing back the way it used to, it’s time to spring for a new one. Consumer Reports recommends that you consider changing your mattress if yours is at more than 5 to 7 years old.  
  • Sleep smart. The worst sleep position for your back? On your stomach. “It puts your neck in a more extended, rotated position -- because you can’t sleep face down -- and that puts the most strain on your joints,” Polivka explains.

Instead, sleep either on your side or your back, using pillows for support. If you prefer your side, the best aid is a body pillow that can support your weight between your knees and help align your arms. Back sleepers should put a pillow between their knees.

  • Rising and shining. Do you jump (or roll grumpily) out of bed when the alarm clock rings? Don’t. Instead, take a minute to stretch fully and let your body wake up before getting a move on. This can help prevent injuries, Polivka says.

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