Perhaps your back hurts first thing each morning, every time you play golf, or only after you lift something heavy. You’re not alone. In fact, approximately 80 percent of Americans will experience back problems at some point during their lifetime.

Dr. F. Andrew Rowan, spine surgeon, and Dr. Kris Homb, nonsurgical spine and sports specialist at Indiana University Health North Hospital, offer these tips for alleviating back pain.

“Back pain can be muscular, arthritic, or sometimes due to nerve compression,” explains Dr. Rowan. “It can be caused by age, arthritis, weight gain, or poor posture. There are many common causes of back pain, and it’s not always easy to identify the root cause.”

Here’s the good news: exercise can help.

“Exercise is a great way to prevent and treat back pain,” says Dr. Homb. “Strong muscles stabilize your spine when you move and can prevent injury and pain.”

What kind of exercise is most helpful? That depends on what you enjoy. If you enjoy an activity, you’re more likely to stick with it.

“If you have severe back pain, or if you’re recovering from back surgery, avoid high-impact activities or activities that place stress on the lower back,” suggests Dr. Rowan. “For example, an elliptical is a low-impact alternative to running, and it provides comparable cardio benefits. Similarly, if you’re experiencing back pain, a recumbent bicycle may be a better option for you than a standard bicycle.”

Exercising with poor form or with excessive weights may put you at risk for injury. If you are starting a new exercise regimen, talk with your doctor to find a routine that will work best for you.

Stretching is also very important. Just like weak muscles can lead to pain, tight muscles can place pressure on the spine and lead to injury. Your spine supports your entire body, so when stretching, be sure to target the whole body. If you aren’t sure where to start, talk with your doctor about stretches that may help.

In addition to exercise, it’s helpful to treat pain with heat or ice. But when should you use heat and when should you use ice?

“Ice is useful for acute back pain because it helps reduce swelling,” explains Dr. Homb. “Heat is better for chronic back pain.”

A little soreness might be common, especially if you notice it after exercising. However, if back pain continues despite rest, or if it seems to be spreading, that may indicate a more serious problem that requires. Speak with a doctor that specializes in back pain management if you notice any of these signs.

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