Be on Guard Against Hurting Your Back

By Alessandro Speciale, MD

An entire front line protects a quarterback. But what about your back? Who’s making sure it doesn’t get roughed up?

You need a game plan to guard against back pain. That’s especially true if you’re at high risk. Nearly 80 percent of adults have back problems at some point, but you’re more likely to experience back pain if you have poor posture, are overweight, don’t get enough exercise or smoke.

You can take a defensive position against back pain by sitting, standing and lifting in back-friendly fashion. Here’s how:

Be choosy about your chair. Try to find one with good lumbar support keeps your back in a normal, slightly arched position and your knees a bit higher than your hips. Adjust the chair so that you don’t need to lean forward to do tasks.

Keep it straight. Stand with your shoulders back, head up and spine straight, and keep your weight balanced on your feet.

Don’t overreach. Get close to shelves and cupboards before grabbing or stowing objects. Rely on your feet—spread apart with one foot slightly forward—to stabilize yourself. Use a stool if you’re going to have to reach above shoulder level.

Push ahead. Pushing puts less strain on your back than pulling. Use your arms and legs to propel a heavy object into motion.

Hold it close. If you’re carrying a heavy item, keep it close to your body. Bend your knees a bit to keep balanced. Use your feet to change direction, rather than twisting at the waist.

Try side-sleeping. You’ll keep your spine straighter if you sleep on your side. A pillow between your knees further reduces the strain on your back. If you must sleep on your back, take the pressure off of it by putting a few pillows under your knees.

Lift responsibly. Take a minute to make a plan before lifting something heavy. Stand close to the object, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees and tighten your stomach muscles. Keep your back straight, and use your leg muscles as you lift.

Alessandro Speciale, MD, is an orthopedic spine surgeon with Anne Arundel Medical Group Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists. He is also part of the SpineTODAY program where he treats acute back and neck pain with fast-access appointments. He can be reached at 410.280.4708 or visit



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