Updated 06 July 2015

How to prevent back problems

Adapt your lifestyle and prevent early deterioration.


Yes, back problems can be prevented. Here's how.

  • If you already have a bad back don’t pick up and carry heavy things or do vigorous physical labour that puts extra pressure on your back.
  • Exercise and stay fit but do so in the correct way so you don’t hollow your back. In the gym concentrate on keeping your back tight against the bench or support. Clench your tummy muscles – having strong stomach muscles is one of the best ways to counteract back pain.
  • Lose weight if you need to. The burden of extra weight on your spine speeds up vertebral deterioration.
  • If you have osteoporosis make sure you take calcium and other supplements to strengthen your bones. (Many South Africans don’t consume enough calcium – you should start as early as your teens.)
  • Stretch your back muscles every day. You could also ask a physiotherapist, biokineticist or your gym instructor to show you exactly how to do stretch exercises.
  • Bend your knees when picking up something. Never bend forwards from the waist. Keep your back straight and bend your knees to lower yourself. Keep your weight on your feet when coming upright and keep your back straight. An adult shouldn’t lift anything heavier than 10 kg.
  • Always carry a heavy object against your body, between your hips and shoulders.
  • Never lift your arms above shoulder height when you’re reaching for something. Rather stand on a stool and store things you use regularly on shelves positioned between hip and shoulder height.
  • Use your leg muscles rather than your back muscles when you push something. Don’t bend your back forwards when pushing or backwards when pulling. Instead stand with a straight back, knees bent and one foot in front of the other. This will give you a firm footing.
  • Sleep correctly. Don’t sleep on your stomach as this forces the lower back into a concave position. Place a pillow under your knees when lying on your back or between the knees when sleeping on your side. Make sure your mattress is firm – put a board under the mattress if necessary.
  • Get up correctly. First sit up when you wake, then move your body and legs to the edge of the bed as a unit. Stand from this sitting position, keeping your back straight.
  • Stand and walk correctly. Pull your shoulders back, keep your head up straight and get into the habit of pulling in your stomach when standing.
  • When driving, support your lower back with a small pillow. Sit as far back as possible and make sure your rear-view mirrors are correctly adjusted. When you get into a car sit down with your legs outside the car then lift your feet and swivel your whole body inside at the same time. Use the hand closest to the safety belt to pull it over you so you don’t twist your back unnecessarily.


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