If you have had any trouble with your back, you will want to do what you can to avoid a recurrence. Although most people with low back pain improve, the pain returns in about 40 percent of these people within six months. Preventing a recurrence is not always possible. Yet you can do a number of things to reduce the chances that your pain will return. There are also several steps that you can take to manage any ongoing pain.
When you're recovering from back pain, it is usually best to avoid doing too much too soon. Start slow, and gradually do more and more. For example, if you are used to walking two miles a day, you may want to start with half a mile after recovering from an episode of low back pain. Although good posture doesn't guarantee a life free of low back pain (and slouching is not the cause of most back pain), improving your posture after back pain may hasten recovery.
In addition, you should consult with your health care provider. There are several important things that your health care provider can do to help keep your back pain-free.
Remember that the best ways to avoid problems with your lower back are to exercise common sense and treat your back well. Be reassured that if you are among the majority of people destined to have low back pain at some point in life, there are safe and reliable ways to improve your discomfort and reduce the chances that your back pain will come back.
- If you are overweight, lose some pounds. Weight loss may reduce your low back pain and prevent it from returning.
- Practice good posture while you are awake and while you are asleep. If you are able to, sleep on your side or on your back with a pillow under your knees.
- Wear soft-soled shoes with heels that are less than one and a half inches high.
- Quit smoking. At least two studies have suggested an association between smoking and low back pain. (Quitting is a good idea regardless of whether or not quitting reduces back pain!)
- Be kind to your back. Reducing the demands you place on your back, such as lightening your purse, briefcase or backpack, can go a long way toward preventing pain.
- If you work at a computer terminal all day, proper alignment of the monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair may help to reduce the chances of recurrent low back pain. Use a chair with a firm back, and sit as far back as possible so that the lower back is supported. Sometimes, small measures such as a lumbar support pillow for periods of prolonged sitting can make a big difference. Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods, if possible. For instance, if you have a long plane ride, get up and walk around when allowed.
- If you have osteoporosis, doing weight-bearing exercise and taking calcium, vitamin D, estrogen replacement or other bone-building drugs are recommended to reduce your chances of a fracture.
- Stretching exercises and a strengthening program for the abdominal muscles, developed by a physical therapist, can be helpful. To avoid back strain, choose swimming, cycling or walking as the exercises of choice.
- Lift safely. Always lift from a squatting position, using your hips and your legs to do the heavy work. Sometimes, getting help is the best idea for lifting heavy loads. Avoid simultaneous lifting, twisting and bending movements, and keep the load near your body as you lift it.
- Focus on other things. Although low back pain may be all-consuming when severe, mild or chronic symptoms need not be, even if they can't be eliminated. In that case, pursue distracting activities, even as you continue to work with your health-care provider to reduce your pain. Distraction can be a powerful pain reliever.
If your back pain returns, or it if never went away completely, consider having a follow-up visit with your health care provider for a re-evaluation of the problem. Over time, your health care provider may arrive at a new diagnosis or may try a different treatment until one is found that works well for your particular symptoms.
If you are taking drugs to relieve your back pain, monitoring your use of them to be sure they are safe for you is another important reason to have regular medical care. Your health care provider can help you to discontinue your drugs when they are no longer needed or can reduce the dose to the lowest effective amount.
Monitoring your weight, prescribing an exercise program, recommending referrals to specialists and making sure you have no life-threatening cause of back pain are important ways that your health care provider can help you to keep your back pain-free.