FEATURE | Posted April 26, 2016

Ways to protect your back

Simple tips to keep your back healthy

Dr. Kee Kim © UC Regents
Dr. Kee Kim

Back pain is one of the most common concerns for patients visiting their doctors. The majority of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point during their lifetime. The reasons vary — from acute sprains due to injuries on sports fields to longer-term degenerative diseases caused by variety of factors.

“I tend to see patients when they are desperate for ways to relieve their pain,” said Kee Kim, chief of spinal neurosurgery at UC Davis Health System. “My goal is to use the least invasive treatment possible that will provide maximal relief if nonsurgical treatments fail. But there are things that everyone can do to help them avoid the need for back surgery.”

Here eight tips from Kim for keeping your back healthy:

  1. Strengthen your core muscles. Your low back is under the stress of supporting your entire upper body. Surrounding muscles in your back need to be toned in order to support your spine and reduce the pressure on your lower back. Our core muscles are rarely used during everyday activities so they need to be toned through specific, targeted exercises. This may be accomplished through simple exercises that do not take too much time.
  2. Stretch. Many back pain problems are caused by tight muscles. If your back muscles are tight, they will put added stress on the entire spine including the joints. Get into a habit of daily stretches to promote your spinal health.
  3. Avoid sitting with poor posture. The discs in your lower spine are loaded even more with a poor sitting posture than standing. If you have to sit for long periods of time, get up and walk around intermittently.
  4. Walk. Walking is very safe and good exercise. Brisk walking at work or outside will help you to maintain a proper weight.
  5. Lift correctly. It's very easy to twist the wrong way that may lead to muscle spasm and pain. Use proper body mechanics and get help if the item is heavy.
  6. Sleep well. Sleeping on your back also puts pressure on your spine. Elevating the knees slightly by placing a pillow under them or lying on your side with a pillow between your knees reduces the pressure.
  7. Watch your weight. Excess weight puts a strain on your back. In order to compensate for extra weight, the spine can become tilted and stressed unevenly. The back may lose its proper support and develop unnatural curvature of the spine over time.
  8. Quit Smoking. Smoking restricts the blood flow to the discs that cushion your vertebrae and may lead to accelerated disc degeneration. Smoking also reduces calcium absorption and new bone growth, which increases the risk of an osteoporotic fracture.

Learn more about keeping your back healthy in “How Much Work Can the Back do Without Strain?,” an article published in the Wall Street Journal featuring Dr. Kee Kim, and the KVIE-Channel 6 documentary “Oh My Aching Back!,” also featuring Kim and UC Davis pain medicine specialists.

Even with the best prevention, back injuries can happen and interrupt daily life to the point where intervention is necessary. The UC Davis Spine Center offers an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to spine wellness and pain care. When surgery is necessary, highly experienced neurosurgical and orthopedic surgical teams are on hand with the most advanced technology to offer appropriate surgical treatments. For information, including clinical trials that are currently enrolling participants, visit http://spine.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/