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Back Safety: Know Your Limits

A can-do attitude may take you far. Just don’t let it take you too far. Pushing your body beyond its limits can lead to a back injury or pain that, well, holds you back in the long run. A healthy dose of caution can help keep your back safe at home, work, play, and on the road.

At Home

Chores can be a real workout. Take breaks and change tasks or positions about every hour to keep your back safe. Good technique can also help you avoid soreness:

  • Stand uprightand walk with your vacuum. Split the task into five- to 10-minute bouts.

  • Keep your elbows close to your body when holding a mop. Stand upright and avoid twisting at the waist.

  • Kneel or sit on a stool to access low fixtures in the bathroom or elsewhere.

  • Make sure floors are clear before carrying full laundry baskets and other loads.

At Work (Office)

Sometimes getting things done means moving things around. Ask yourself these questions before you lift a box or other object:

  • Is it too heavy for me to pick up and carry on my own?

  • Does its shape make it difficult to move by myself?

  • How far and/or high do I need to move it?

When you need to get into an overhead shelf or cabinet, use a step stool or ladder. Don’t use a chair or stack of boxes, which make you more likely to fall. Most importantly, stop and ask for help with any task you’re not sure you can do safely on your own.

At Work (Factory)

Repeating the same motions throughout the day can be hard on your body and back. So can awkward movements, such as twisting. Overtime, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues can become damaged.

These steps can also reduce your risk for back problems:

  • Don’t slouch or arch your back when you stand. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.

  • Use the proper form for each task—every time. For example, bend at your knees when lifting an object from the floor.

  • Keep tabs on your workspace. Report hazards, like spills and equipment damage, right away.

At Play

Trying a new sport or restarting an exercise program? Slowly build up your time and intensity. Too much, too soon can cause pain and injury.

Rest your body for a couple of days before repeating the same activity. But don’t save all your exercise for the weekend. Keep moving with a different activity on those off days. And stretch daily. Tightness in your neck and hamstrings, for example, can put extra pressure on your back.

When it’s go time:

  • Use proper technique. Ask for help when you need it.

  • Stop if you have any pain during an activity.

  • Don’t skip your warm-up or cooldown.

On the Road

Simple steps can make a hefty commute or a road trip more doable. On long journeys, make frequent pit stops to stretch and walk for a few minutes.

Before driving, position your seat so that you’re:

  • Slightly bending your knees

  • Able to reach controls without leaning

  • Sitting on a flat surface

If you’re the passenger, keep your smartphone or other device at chest or eye level. Your neck and back will thank you. No matter what seat you’re in, sit up to keep your spine straight. Consider placing a rolled towel or lumbar support cushion behind your lower back.


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