Nearly half of healthy, active people over age 60 experience lower back pain, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Despite that statistic, there are several things you can do to reduce your chances of suffering a flare up. Indeed, back pain doesn't have to be an inevitable consequence of aging, if you are proactive about preventing it. Here are some ways.
Avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time. The more you sit, the more pressure you put on the cushioned discs between the vertebrae in your back. If you're stuck in a desk job, try getting up and walking around every 30 minutes. Doing so will squeeze the fluid out of your discs, helping to head off pain. Even better is a sit-stand desk.
According to a 2018 University of Pittsburgh study published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, people with chronic lower back pain reduced their self-rated pain and disability by 50 percent using a sit-stand desk and taking movement breaks.
Check your mattress. A medium firm mattress, as opposed to a very firm mattress, appears to be best for your back, according to a 2015 review published in the journal Sleep Health. Even more important than the firmness of your mattress is how old it is. When a mattress is past its prime, it can become soft and lumpy, which can cause your back to contort as it tries to adjust to it. Experts recommend changing your mattress as often as every seven years or sooner if it is showing signs of wear and tear.
Work on your posture. Anytime you slouch or stoop, your back muscles strain to keep you balanced, which can result in back pain over time. As much as possible, try and be mindful of your posture and work to improve it. When standing, keep your shoulders back, stomach pulled in, and feet about shoulder-width apart. If you must stand for a while, shift your body weight from your heels to your toes and from foot to foot. When seated, keep your feet flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel to them, legs uncrossed. If possible, choose a chair with a back rest. If you can't, place a small pillow behind your back for support.
Try not to ramp up activity too quickly. If you're one of those weekend warriors who try to make up for a week of inactivity with an ambitious schedule on the weekend, you may be asking for trouble. Even if you're in decent shape, the twisting and turning in games like golf and tennis can cause back strain. Remember, your back muscles and spine were less forgiving when you were younger, so make sure to ease into activity by rehearsing the movements you will be doing and with light stretching before the game.
Eat a healthy diet. Many experts believe that an anti-inflammatory diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats can reduce the inflammation in the body that often worsens back pain. Another reason healthy eating works is that it can lead to weight loss, which takes a load off your spine. Indeed studies have shown that those with a higher BMI (body mass index) have a higher risk of developing back pain.
Don't stonewall your emotions. If you tend to keep a stiff upper lip when in emotional situations, your back may pay for it, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Emotion. One reason could be that when you're upset, you're more likely to tense up, especially in your back.
Try yoga or Pilates. People with chronic back pain who participated in yoga for eight weeks reported significant improvements in their back pain, according to a 2016 study in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).