Are you sitting up straight with your feet on the floor? If not, you might soon experience back pain, the world's leading cause of disability. The condition affects more than 540 million people globally, and about 85 to 90 percent of Americans will suffer from the condition at some point in life, whether as a result of injury or the need for a better mattress. Left unaddressed, chronic pain can greatly impact your quality of life, prevent you from performing daily tasks, lead to loss of work and increased healthcare costs down the road. Fortunately, it's often cheap and easy to treat and prevent back pain.
Strengthening your body's core is key to reducing back pain. That's because core muscles, including abdominal muscles and ones that run along your spine and pelvis, help to support your spine. If your core is weak, your body is more likely to rely on passive structures like ligaments and spinal discs for stability, potentially causing back pain. Attending a Pilates class or doing exercises like planks, side planks, press-ups and bird dogs can help.
Sitting for long periods of time places unnecessary stress on your lower back, glutes, and hip flexor muscles, potentially leading to lower back pain and anterior pelvic tilt, among other conditions. To protect your back, take a "microbreak" from sitting every 30 minutes and spend a few minutes moving around to stimulate blood circulation.
According to Cornell University's Department of Ergonomics, sitting can place up to 90 percent more pressure on your back than standing — especially when it's done incorrectly. To minimize postural stress, try sitting up straight all the way back in your chair with your knees at a right angle, feet flat on the floor, and shoulders relaxed. If you're on the computer, make sure the top of the screen is positioned about 2 to 3 inches above eye level.
Making sure you drink about eight large glasses of water per day can help prevent and alleviate back pain by ensuring your intervertebral discs stay hydrated. These discs essentially act as shock absorbers that separate and cushion the vertebrae of the spine, and their dehydration can result in stiffness, injury, and difficulties moving. They tend to shrink with age so it's especially important older people remember to stay well hydrated throughout the day.
Three common medical professionals that treat back pain are physical therapists, chiropractors, and spine specialists. Chiropractors can help identify diseases of the musculoskeletal system and perform manipulations when vertebrae are out of alignment. Physical therapists are able to treat back pain through more diverse means, such as targeted stretches and strengthening exercises, postural training, and injury rehabilitation. For more serious cases, ask your primary care physician which kind of spine specialist is needed.
Unfortunately, no one type of mattress will be best for everyone. Most research suggests that people who get the best sleep have mattresses of a medium firmness. A mattress that's too firm won't contour to your body, causing pressure to be distributed unevenly. Meanwhile, soft mattresses might allow you to sink in to the bed too much, providing little support. Be sure to try out mattresses in the store and know that the entry price for luxury mattresses starts at about $1,000, which will cost just 27 cents a night if it lasts 10 years.
If you sleep on your side, snuggling up with a body pillow can provide crucial postural support at night. That's because body pillows, which typically cost between $40 and $100, help your body stay aligned and discourage you from twisting and turning in your sleep. Specialized body pillows, such as the C-shaped Snoogle ($80), can also provide full-body support, especially for pregnant mothers experiencing back problems.
Being overweight or obese puts more pressure on your spinal discs, and research has shown that this can lead to more rapid disc degeneration. By losing weight, you'll alleviate pressure in the spine, decreasing your chances of injury and ensuring that your discs are able to function properly as you age.