Healthy Living

Prevent Back Pain

A man in a blue hoodie exercising.

The Basics


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

  • Do muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises at least 2 days a week.
  • Stand and sit up straight.
  • Avoid heavy lifting. If you do lift something heavy, bend your knees and keep your back straight. That way, your leg muscles will do most of the work.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. Being overweight can strain your back. Getting regular physical activity and choosing healthy foods can help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.

Learn more about back pain.

There are different types of back pain.

Back pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). 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 lifting something that’s too heavy. Acute back pain usually gets better on its own — but there may be times when you need to get medical care. Find out when to call a doctor or nurse about back pain.

Chronic back pain lasts for more than 3 months. It’s much less common than acute back pain. Most chronic back pain can be treated without surgery. 

Learn about ways to treat back pain.

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 medical problems. Many people hurt their backs when they lift, push, or pull something that's too heavy. You’re more likely to experience back pain as you get older.

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

  • Are pregnant
  • 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

Take Action

Get Active

Take care of yourself 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:

  • Do muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises at least 2 days a week. Try these exercises.
  • Try a yoga class. Yoga can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve your posture. Get the facts about yoga
  • Stay active. Regular physical activity can help keep your back muscles strong. Aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Learn more about getting active.

If you have an injury, health condition, or disability, consider asking your doctor or nurse which types of activity are best for you. Get tips on staying active with a disability.

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 — if possible, 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’re not in the same position for too long

Lift correctly.

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

Prevent back injuries if you sit a lot.

If you sit a lot — like if you work at a desk — it’s important to take care of your back. Take regular breaks from sitting if you can. Learn more about preventing back pain at work.

Healthy Habits

Aim for a healthy weight.

Getting to and staying at a healthy weight lowers your risk of back pain. If you’re overweight, losing weight in a healthy way can lower the strain on your back. Get tips for maintaining a healthy weight.

Get enough calcium and vitamin D.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help keep your bones strong and prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes your bones weaker and more likely to fracture (break) — and if it affects your spine, it can cause back pain.

To learn more:

Content last updated March 21, 2024

Reviewer Information

This information on back pain prevention was adapted from materials from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Reviewed by:

Leslie Rivera Quiroz, M. A.
Communications Specialist
Science Communications and Outreach Branch
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases 
National Institutes of Health

Trish Reynolds, RN, MS
Writer-Editor/Media Liaison
Science Communications and Outreach Branch
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health