7 Steps for Strengthening Your Back

More than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, millions of Americans suffer with back pain every day. While back pain and injury is prevalent among Americans, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.

7 Steps for Strengthening Your Back

To keep your back healthy and strong:

1. Quit smoking. Smokers have diminished oxygen levels in their spinal tissues, which can put you more at risk for back injury and also hinder the healing process after an injury.

2. Sit in alignment. When sitting, sit with your knees and hips level--and with your hips, shoulders and neck in alignment with one another. Avoid hunching over your computer screen. The top of your screen should be at your eye level. Check your posture throughout the day, and realign yourself as often as possible.

3. Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (see below) help condition your muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back. Flexibility in your hips helps align your pelvic bones to improve how your back feels.

4. Exercise regularly. Exercise may be the most effective way to speed recovery from low back pain and help strengthen back and abdominal muscles, according to the National Institutes of Health. Good choices are low-impact aerobic activities (those that don't strain your back) such as walking and swimming. Talk with your doctor about which activities are best for you.

5. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts strain on your back muscles. If you're overweight, start making healthier food choices and incorporate more exercise into your daily routine.

6. Use proper body mechanics when lifting. Squat, and be sure NOT to bend at the waist. Let your legs and glutes do the work. Hold the heavy object close to your body, and move straight up and down. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. If the object is heavy or awkward, get a lifting partner.

7. Sleep right. Although a soft bed might feel cozy, a soft mattress is not good for your back. Firm mattresses are better since they support the spine. Best sleeping positions are on your side with the knees bent, or on your back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach because it places too much pressure on your spine and, over time, that pressure turns to pain.

Exercises to Improve Flexibility

Try the following exercises to keep your back flexible and strong.

  • Knees Into Chest. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Using both hands, pull up one knee toward your chest. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds as you breathe. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. Return to the starting position and repeat with both legs at the same time.
  • Twist. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your shoulders firmly on the floor, roll your bent knees to one side. Hold for five to 10 seconds and breathe. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Exercises to Improve Back Strength

  • Opposite arm and leg stretch. Get down on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Pulling your abs up and in, simultaneously extend your left arm and right leg until both are parallel to the floor. Take five breaths in the position. Return to the starting position, and repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Repeat five to seven times.
  • Shoulder Blade Squeeze. Sit in an armless chair with your feet on the floor. Keeping your chin tucked slightly and your chest high, draw your shoulder blades together behind you. Hold for five seconds, as you breathe deeply, then relax. Repeat up to 10 times.

Bottom Line

Back pain prevention is so much easier than finding a back pain cure. Follow the 7 steps above to keep your back healthy and strong.


"Back Injuries." University of Maryland, Department of Environmental Safety. Web. 12 May 2010. http://www.des.umd.edu/compliance/factsheet/back.html

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. 12 May 2010.  http://www.bls.gov/iif/

"Low Back Pain." FamilyDoctor.org. Web 10 May 2010. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/pain/treatment/117.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. 'Back Pain: Prevention." MayoClinic.com. 10 May 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain/ds00171/dsection=prevention