A 10-step plan to help you reduce body stress and prevent back pain, especially during the demanding holiday season, is outlined by the U.S. National Athletic Trainers' Association.
"The human body is an incredible machine that adapts to the stresses we give it every day. Stresses such as poor posture, unusual movement or activities, or even a sedentary lifestyle can lead to poor mechanics and pain. Disability from back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost work time," certified athletic trainer Darrell Barnes of the St. Vincent Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis, Ind., said in a prepared statement.
Back pain affects 80 percent of adults at some point in their lives, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Each year, Americans pay about $24 billion for treatment of back pain, limited mobility and stiffness.
Here are 10 things you can do to prevent and reduce back pain:
* Identify and correct body stresses such as poor posture, improper lifting techniques, or weak or tight muscles. Strengthen your back, learn proper lifting methods, carry lighter loads, and use luggage carts for heavy packages and suitcases.
* Increase your muscle mobility by stretching or doing activities -- such as yoga, tai chi, swimming or pilates -- that help keep you limber.
* Boost your strength by doing exercises that involve the whole body, especially the core muscles of the stomach, back, hips and pelvis. In addition, strengthening your legs and shoulders can help improve your ability to squat, lift and carry items without overworking or injuring your back.
* Do aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming and running, for at least 20 minutes three times a week. This kind of exercise increases muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness, improves blood flow to the spine, and helps reduce stress.
* Practice good posture. If possible, don't sit for long periods of time.
Get up every 15 to 30 minutes and move around or stretch. When you're seated, keep your hips and knees at right angles to one another and use a chair with adequate lumbar (lower back) support.
* When standing, keep your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward and stomach tight. Don't stand in the same position for too long. Use your legs, not your back, when pushing or pulling heavy items.
* Use proper lifting techniques. When lifting objects from a position below your waist, stand with a wide stance and a slight bend at your hips and knees. Tighten your stomach as you lift and keep your back as flat as possible -- don't arch or bend it. When carrying heavy items, keep them as close as possible to your body. Don't carry items on only one side of your body.
* Sleep on a firm mattress and box spring that doesn't sag. Sleep in a position that allows you to maintain the natural curve in your back.
* Warm up before exercise or sports. Increasing muscle temperature and mobility beforehand will reduce the risk of injury.
* Maintain/adopt a healthy lifestyle. Obesity and smoking increase the incidence of back pain.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health offers back pain prevention advice.