We don't think very much about our backs — that is, until they start to hurt. Back pain is now one of the most common medical complaints in the United States, but the good news is that, in many cases, back pain can be prevented. Here are ACE's Top 10 ways to maintain a healthy back.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight

    Excess weight tends to creep up slowly, so we may not be aware of how it affects us. But try carrying a 20-pound pack on your back all day, and you'll have a better idea of how extra weight takes a toll on the whole body.

  2. Strengthen the abdominal and back muscles

    You've heard it before, but strengthening the abdominals really does help protect the back. In fact, a strong core — which includes all the muscles of the trunk — is important for avoiding injury, whether you're cleaning your house, playing tennis or sitting at a desk all day.

  3. Lift items properly

    Protect your back when lifting anything by standing close to the object with your feet apart to give you a stable base. Squat down while keeping the spine in proper alignment and contract your abdominals as you lift using your legs.

  4. Strengthen the leg muscles

    Along with the core muscles, the leg muscles play a vital role in helping you maintain good posture and body mechanics. And strong leg muscles can take much of the burden off the back when you're lifting heavy items (see above).

  5. Stay flexible

    Inflexibility in the form of tight hamstrings and a limited range of motion in the trunk can increase your risk of injury or make existing back pain worse. Some forms of exercise, such as yoga and Tai Chi, may help relieve or prevent back pain by increasing flexibility and reducing tension. These exercises should not be done, however, if they are uncomfortable or place a strain on the back.

  6. Maintain good posture

    Correct posture and body mechanics play a vital role in preventing back pain because pressure on the discs and strain of the muscles, ligaments and back joints is aggravated by incorrect posture and body mechanics. When you have good posture and move your body correctly, however, you reduce the strain on your back.

  7. Buy a comfortable mattress

    Most of us spend a good deal of time in bed, which is why a good mattress is such a wise investment. Be sure to test the mattress at the store and ask for recommendations. What works for one person may not work for you, so take the time to find the mattress that suits your needs.

  8. Reduce stress

    Stress increases tension in all your muscles including your back. By lowering your stress level, you may literally feel as if a weight has been taken off your shoulders.

  9. Warm up before activity

    Beginning any activity with cold muscles puts you at risk for injury. Take the time to get your muscles warm and limber before beginning your exercise routine. Start out exercising slowly and do a little stretching before getting more vigorous.

  10. Support the lower back when sitting

    Use a rolled towel, small pillow or specially designed seat support available at medical supply stores. Remove the support for five minutes every half hour to give your lower back a change of position. After sitting for a prolonged period, straighten your back to an upright position and, if it's possible, stand up and walk around.