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 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. This way, your leg muscles will do most of the work.
- Get active and eat a balanced diet. Being overweight can strain your back. Getting active and heating healthy can help you stay at a healthy weight.
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, fall, or lifting 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 lasts for more than 3 months. It’s much less common than acute back pain. Most chronic back pain can be treated without surgery.
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 a 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.
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)
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 back-strengthening and stretching exercises [PDF - 244 KB] at least 2 days a week.
- Try a yoga class. Yoga can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve your posture.
- Stay active. Regular physical activity can help keep your back muscles strong. Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week.
If you have an injury, health condition, or disability, ask your doctor or nurse which types of exercise are best for you. Get tips on staying active with a disability.
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. 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 aren't in the same position for too long.
- Find out how to have good posture while sitting at a computer.
Lift things with your legs, not your back. Keep your back straight and bend at your knees or 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.
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. Osteoporosis makes your bones weaker and more likely to fracture (break).
Spine fractures from osteoporosis are a leading cause of back pain.
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on back pain prevention was adapted from materials from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Science Communications and Outreach Branch
National Institutes of Health