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The #1 Reason You Have a "Bad Back," Say Physicians

Avoiding one bad habit can go a long way toward preventing you from becoming a painful statistic.

Common, miserable, debilitating: That's back pain in a nutshell. Recent CDC data shows that nearly 60% of Americans are living with some type of chronic pain, and back pain is the most common, affecting nearly two out of every five of us. According to the Health Policy Institute, back pain causes Americans to miss 83 million days of work each year, and it's the sixth most costly health condition in the country. The good news is that avoiding one bad habit can go a long way toward preventing you from becoming a painful statistic. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


The #1 Habit That Leads to a Bad Back

Man watching a sports game on tv while sitting on a couch eating junk snacks and drinking a beer

The biggest contributor to back injury is, most likely, being physically inactive. "Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit," says the National Institutes of Health. "Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine. 'Weekend warriors'—people who go out and exercise a lot after being inactive all week—are more likely to suffer painful back injuries than people who make moderate physical activity a daily habit." 

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Regular Exercise Is Key, But How Much?

woman jumping rope outside

"Studies show that low-impact aerobic exercise can help maintain the integrity of intervertebral discs," the NIH notes. For overall health, experts including the American Heart Association recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, plus at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance training or lifting weights).

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include anything that gets your heart rate up, such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening, or leisurely biking. Vigorous activity makes you sweat and gets you a bit out of breath, such as running, swimming, hiking uphill, fast cycling, or jumping rope.

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Prevent Back Pain by Lifting Properly

man lifting weights at gym class while squatting

"Recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics may be prevented by avoiding movements that jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly," says the NIH.  

When you're lifting heavy objects, don't be a hero. Get someone to help you if necessary. always lift from the knees, pulling your stomach muscles in, and keep the head down and in line with a straight back. When you lifting, keep objects close to the body, and don't twist.  

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Prevent Back Pain by Quitting Smoking

Man breaking up a cigarette

"Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration," says the NIH. "Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis and impedes healing. Coughing due to heavy smoking also may cause back pain."

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When to See a Doctor

Medical doctor stands arm crossed in hospital.

"Most low back pain — even when severe — goes away on its own in six to eight weeks with self-care, such as resting from heavy lifting, applying heat or ice, using over-the-counter pain medications and stretching," says the Mayo Clinic.

You should consult your doctor if your back hurts after a fall or another injury, or if you have a history of cancer. Additionally, you should call a healthcare provider if your back pain:

  • Is constant or intense, particularly at night or when you lie down
  • Spreads down one or both legs
  • Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
  • Is accompanied by fever, swelling or redness on your back
  • Occurs with unintended weight loss
  • Is accompanied by new bowel or bladder control problems

And to ensure your health don't miss these 101 Health Habits You Didn't Know Were Deadly.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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