Back pain is one of the most common debilitating disorder in the world today. The pain affects 90% of people at some point of their lives. Human back comprises of various structures (see figure) which are nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, any or all of which can be a source of pain. Once back pain occurs, it may become chronic (more than 4 weeks) and you shall need to consult a pain physician for relief and accurate diagnosis.


Figure showing back muscles and their attachments

Since prevention is always better than cure,  you can save yourself from having back pain if you follow these basic tips.

  1. Regular Exercise in Correct Form:
    Regular exercise is important to maintain proper muscular strength of the back. Human back is supported by several big muscle groups (see figure). They serve two functions - one is to facilitate the posture and movements of the back itself and the other is to help movements of the rest of the body appendages (arms, head, pelvis and legs).
    The health of these muscle group is important to take stress off the spinal bones and maintain proper function. Most of these muscles are red muscle fibers as they need to maintain their activity for prolonged periods of time. Just to give you an idea - your biceps (arm muscles) have to work only when you bend your arm. But your back muscles have to function all the time - whether you sit, walk, stand or even sleep. But the point is what kind of exercises are good for your back? 
    The best exercises for back include body weight low impact aerobics like brisk walking, swimming, stationary bicycling, extension exercises and yoga. What is important to remember while doing these exercises if that you need to be gentle in your movements and achieve correct "form" - this is possible if you can ask someone (preferably a trainer) to observe and point out whether the back stays straight during the exercise. It has been seen that arching and excessive bending is associated with injury to the back while exercising.
  2. Stay Hydrated and Eat Natural Nutritious diet:
    The inter vertebral discs contain 70 - 80% water. The muscles and tissues have 60% water content. Therefore, it is important to stay hydrated. In addition, you must eat a nutritious diet consisting of green leafy vegetables, good protein source and just enough carbohydrates. Deficiencies of essential nutrients like Vitamin D can result in diseases like osteoporosis. Another important aspect is to maintain body weight within healthy limits. This is very important as increased belly fat is linked to increased back pain due to mechanical factors.
  3. Lift objects correctly and maintain proper posture:
    While lifting objects, keep them as close to body as possible. Do not slouch or bend excessively while lifting. Just keep your back straight at all times. You may bend your knees a little if required (see figure). Think before you lift and get help if needed.

    While working, you must not sit for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Walk for two minutes, go to a colleague's desk and say hi or even just drink some water or visit the washroom. Humans evolved as hunter - gatherers and our bodies are more adapted to walking / standing than to sitting for prolonged periods. Those of you who travel more and have to sit for long periods of time also need to follow above tips - avoid prolonged sitting in same posture.
    While exercising, improper position can do more harm than good. Therefore, proper form and posture is a must.

Bonus tip: Avoid cigarette smoking and those who smoke cigarettes to decrease your chances of having degenerative disc diseases leading to chronic back pain early in life.

Word of caution to prevent permanent damage: In case of back pain, which is not responding to home remedies or over the counter painkillers, please contact a Pain Physician to pin point the diagnosis and appropriate management.