4 tips for a happier back and neck

Ways to help avoid strain and pain

Ouch! Most of us have had an aching back or a sore neck ruin a perfectly OK day — some of us more often than others.

What if your next bout of this particular misery might be avoided or minimized?

1. Lift like a pro. There’s a good way — and a not-so-good way. Be sure to use proper form. A lifting must: Bend your legs, not your back.

2. Strike a spine-friendly pose — at work, while driving, when texting, etc. Poor posture may contribute to back and neck strain. It may help to:

  • Sit or stand up straight. Remember: Slouch rhymes with ouch.
  • Adjust your workstation. For instance, keep your computer screen at arm’s length. Feet should touch the floor or be supported.
  • Switch positions as often as possible. For example, if you sit for work, get up to stretch or walk around. When driving distances, stop frequently for breaks to walk and stretch.
  • Browsing on your smartphone? Try to keep it at either chest or eye level.

3. Lighten up. Excess weight equals excess strain on your spine. To get to a healthier weight, think slow and steady. You might find a winning formula with these small and doable changes. 

4. Aim for fit and strong. Regular activity, such as brisk walking, may help prevent and ease pain.1 Also include exercises that strengthen the muscles that support your spine, such as your core. To help keep your back and neck limber, try gentle stretches too.

It’s a simple truth: If your spine isn’t happy, you may not be happy for long. Don’t stand for it. Actually, do take a stand — for your back and better health.

When you’re already aching

These tips may ease pain — and help the healing process along:

Keep moving. It may be tempting to head to bed when you’re hurting. But gentle activity, such as walking and light stretching, may help.

Chill — then heat. For the first couple of days, use cold packs on the sore area, for up to 20 minutes several times a day. This may reduce inflammation and pain.

After those early days, switch to warmth. Help relax muscles with a heating pad or warm showers or baths.2

What about pain relievers? Over-the-counter pain medicines may ease swelling and discomfort. But certain types shouldn’t be taken too often or for too long. Follow your doctor’s advice for medicine use — and ask any questions you have. 

What to do next

Know your care options. If you need medical care — and your primary care doctor isn’t available — it pays to know where to go to get care.


  1. For safety’s sake, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.
  2. Treatment with cold or heat may not be advised for people with diabetes, circulation problems or loss of feeling.


American College of Emergency Physicians; American Physical Therapy Association; National Institutes of Health; North American Spine Society