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Easing the Ache: Prevent Low Back Pain Before It Flares Up

Stop putting up with chronic back pain. Get tips to keep your spine healthy and strong.

man sitting on a bed's edge rubbing his back

Sometimes it can be difficult for doctors to pinpoint the exact cause of ongoing back pain. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in pain all the time. Here are steps you can take that may help minimize flare-ups and help keep your back healthy and strong.

Work it out

Staying active is an important part of managing chronic low back pain. It helps build stronger muscles, including the ones that support your back. It can also help with flexibility and ease muscular stiffness. A well-rounded workout plan generally includes:

  • Stretching exercises to maintain your range of motion
  • Strengthening exercises, such as lifting light weights, to build strong supporting muscles
  • Aerobic exercises, such as swimming or walking, for overall good health (generally, you should avoid high-impact activities, such as skiing or jogging)

Talk with your doctor before starting exercise. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help design a program that won’t aggravate your symptoms.

No more nicotine

Nicotine is bad news for your back. It prevents blood from flowing freely to the cushioning discs of the spine, which increases the risk of disc degeneration. If you use nicotine, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

Take off extra pounds

Excess weight, especially around the midsection, puts extra strain on your spine and low back. Maintaining a healthy weight is good for your back. A diet with enough calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D also helps promote growth of new bone.

Explore alternatives. Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and other therapies may help relieve pain for some people. Talk to your doctor about alternatives that might be useful for your situation.

Practice good back habits. Pay attention to your posture. Stand up straight and avoid slouching. If you sleep on your back, put a pillow or two under your knees to take some of the pressure off your back. If you sleep on your side, placing a pillow between your knees with knees bent will do the trick.

Manage pain. Hot and cold compresses or a warm bath or shower can relax muscles and may reduce some back pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or medications like ibuprofen, may also be helpful. Check with your doctor first to see what is right for you. Your doctor may prescribe other medicines as well, for long- or short-term use.

In some situations, these options may not give you enough relief. If that happens, your doctor may suggest other treatments, such as physical therapy, injections or, in certain cases when conservative treatments aren’t helping, surgery.

Note: If you’re pregnant, physically inactive or have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe for you or those that you should avoid.

By Mindy Pen, Contributing Writer

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low back pain fact sheet. Accessed: March 8, 2019.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. What is back pain? Accessed: March 8, 2019.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Low back pain. Accessed March 8, 2019.
UpToDate. Subacute and chronic low back pain: Pharmacologic and noninterventional treatment. Accessed: March 8, 2019.

Updated March 27, 2019