5 Health Habits That Can Minimize Back Pain

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From relentless dull aches to sharp, incapacitating stabs, back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the country, says the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

The key to a strong back is good health itself, says orthopedic surgeon Robert Berkowitz, MD.

“The most important component of spine health is prevention, which starts with treating our bodies well,” Dr. Berkowitz says. “If we treat our bodies nicely, they tend to treat us back in a nice way.”

The more flexibility, strength and stability you have, the stronger and healthier your back will be.

How to Control Back Pain

While there are certain genetic factors and traumatic injuries that aren’t preventable – such as aging, accidents or degenerative conditions caused by wear and tear – you can minimize and/or control back pain by focusing on what Dr. Berkowitz calls the “five spokes in the wheel of health” that include:

  1. Eat right. Inflammation is at the core of numerous chronic health problems, from heart attacks and strokes to diabetes to spinal pain. It also causes or exacerbates back and neck pain and spinal issues. “The average American is overly inflamed,” he says. “That's mainly because of our diet. We eat too many carbohydrates and too many bad fats, as opposed to good fats. Essentially, sugar and processed foods are destroying our bodies by causing inflammation.”

  2. Get enough sleep. It's one of the most under-appreciated components of health, Dr. Berkowitz says. When you sleep, your body does a lot of important things, including healing and clearing itself of damaging toxins and substances. “In America, we sometimes pride ourselves on the ability to function on less sleeps,” he says. “But science is increasingly pointing to the fact that most people should get seven, if not eight hours of sleep each night.”

  3. Exercise. You don’t have to be a triathlete, simply move and be active. “Take a walk or a light jog. Do some stretching,” Dr. Berkowitz says. “High-intensity interval training is real trendy now and that certainly has been shown to have some benefit. But if that's not your thing, just find an activity you enjoy to keep you moving. One of the biggest problems people have these days is they are stationary all day long.”

  4. Reduce stress. Stress has a frequently overlooked impact on your physical and mental health, Dr. Berkowitz says. He recommends 10 to 30 minutes of meditation, yoga or other techniques to relax your brain and calm your mind. These activities help lower blood pressure, and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone. “Even laughing and enjoying some time with your friends has been proven to boost a person's health,” he says.

  5. Avoid toxins. “The world is more toxic than ever from a chemical perspective, and it's having an impact on our overall health,” Dr. Berkowitz says. “We're spraying chemicals on our lawns and food. There are chemicals on the mattresses we sleep on. You can't completely avoid them because they're everywhere, but we should do whatever we can to limit our exposure. One way is to eat food that is not sprayed with chemicals.”

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