While millions of American men and women will experience lower back pain this year, a little bit of prevention can go a long way to lessen the severity of the pain or avoid it altogether. Here are some simple steps to better back care:

1. Don’t be a slouch: Mom was right when she told you to sit up straight. Good posture helps minimize chronic back conditions because it strengthens core muscles and can reduce pain. Your stomach and back muscles work in tandem to support your spine.

Strong muscles and flexibility in the lower body area – hips, thighs and pelvic area – is important for good pelvic alignment and support. Take care of your body for less pain.

2. Exercise regularly: Walking, swimming, riding your bike, or even taking a walk around the mall can improve your muscle function. Thirty minutes of walking a day will help improve chronic pain, prevent injury and offer many other health benefits, such as decreasing your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease and many other problems.

However, if you don’t know the extent of your injuries or don’t talk to your doctor about a sensible exercise plan, back pain can worsen or even become permanent. Exercise, but know your limits.

3. Take a break: Moving is good. Standing in one place too long or doing a lot of unnecessary bending is bad. Standing for long periods of time can put pressure on the wrong places and possibly create more damage. Take a moment to sit and rest.

4. Best seat in the house: If you spend a lot of time sitting – at work or at home – select a chair that provides proper support and is positioned at the right height. Straining to sit down or get up from a chair is a formula for more discomfort, or worse yet, added injury. Whenever possible, sit in an ergonomically designed chair.

5. Safety at all times: A little common sense goes a long way. Evaluate your home or workplace for tripping and slipping hazards, such as electrical cords, loose rugs, household items not in their proper place, and spills or leaks on slick surfaces. Furniture that’s old and rickety should be discarded. To reach objects up high, use an appropriate ladder – not a box or other unsafe item. Minimize your risks.

6. Learn how to lift and carry a load: Improper lifting causes far too many back injuries. Don’t be a hero and carry more than you should. Employers are required to provide the right equipment when lifting is required. When lifting, make sure you keep your back straight and bend at the knees. If the load is too large, get help. Don’t risk an injury.

7. Lose those extra pounds: We all know being overweight puts a strain on the body, including the back. Losing weight takes pressure off joints and the back, as well as increasing your energy level and sense of well-being.

8. Avoid smoking: Smoking diminishes oxygen levels to spinal tissues, impeding the healing process when you have back pain.

9. Get a good mattress: You need a good mattress for proper back support. Stay away from firm to extra-firm mattresses. A medium-firm mattress is best for overall back support. Pillows should be used to support the neck, but not to the extent they push the head and neck into odd positions.

Dr. Raul Weston is a specialist in interventional pain medicine in Bountiful, Utah.

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