Back pain is the most commonly cited reason for job-related disability and missing work. Very few people escape the pain. In fact, experts estimate 60 to 80 percent of Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives—most often between the ages of 30 and 50— and according to the National Institutes of Health, Americans spend $50 billion per year addressing this debilitating problem.

Aging is only partly to blame for the reason so many people have bad backs. Eric Goodman, DC (doctor of chiropractic) and others believe that leading a sedentary life is also a contributing factor. There are two types of back pain-acute and chronic. Chronic is defined as pain that lasts at least three months. Acute is short term—often triggered by straining or injuring the area. While many people seek help from their doctor, medication and physical therapy aren't the only ways to treat back pain. Goodman has another prescription which he says shouldn't be taken lying down.

The chiropractor recommends Foundation Training, a series of exercises he developed that has helped numerous professional athletes—as well as ordinary folks—not only heal their back pain but also prevent it from happening again. No equipment is necessary and all ages and fitness levels can benefit from learning the movements.

Relief from back pain hinges on the strength of the muscles in your back, butt, abdomen, thighs and calves and in changing the way you move. In a recent lecture, Goodman talked about how exercises to strengthen the posterior chain of muscles and changing the way you move will stabilize the spine, allow it to heal and avoid further injury. He says most of us move incorrectly in ways that stress the spine and the result is pain, not only in the back but in the hips, neck, feet and ankles. In addition, our lifestyles weaken the muscles responsible for spine support. But by changing the way you move and actively strengthening these muscles, you can take control of your pain.

Goodman's Foundation Training program is available on DVD and includes the basics of how it works along with five unique workouts. Many of the exercises are similar to yoga and Pilates moves, with very specific movements and alignments attached to specific poses and exercises.

In addition to strengthening the core, butt and leg muscles, Goodman says it's important to stretch and lengthen the muscles in the front of the body. Creating space in the area between the lower ribs and the top of the hip forces the body into the proper alignment, which supports the back. The next step to permanently solving your back pain is to learn how to move properly, using the big muscles in the legs and hips rather than the muscles of the back.

Foundation Training isn't the only way to strengthen and stretch the muscles supporting the back. Many exercise programs can work. If you currently have back pain, be sure to get an "all clear" from your doctor before starting any exercise program. Then it's time to get moving.

Walking is always a good way to begin improving your overall fitness and keep your muscles limber. Since incorrect movement during exercise is often where back pain starts, professional advice can be helpful. A physical therapist can customize a program for you or consult with a certified fitness instructor who has experience working with people who suffer from back pain.

Log on to the Foundation Training website for more information about how being an active participant in your healthcare can keep you out of pain. View a demonstration of The Founder, one of the basic exercises of Goodman's program.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.