If you've ever had a backache, you know how bad the pain can get. It may be severe enough to keep you from going about your daily activities. Perhaps it makes you feel much older than you really are or causes you to groan when you sit or stand.

Understanding Back Pain

Back pain is a very common injury when dealing with athletes, says Erin K. Finnegan, M.S., A.T.C., assistant athletic trainer at St. Bonaventure University in western New York. I treat at least one athlete per day for some sort of muscular-related back pain.

What's more, back pain isn't limited to athletes: Average folks suffer from it, too. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, back pain is the number-one reason why people miss work or seek medical help.

Preventing Aches and Pains

Although back pain is common, it doesn't have to be inevitable. To reduce your risk, Finnegan recommends the following preventative steps:

1. Pay attention to your posture.

Maintaining good posture when you're both standing and sitting can be essential to preventing back pain. When you have good posture, the spine is in proper alignment, relaxing the muscles and making it easier to balance your body.

2. Exercise regularly.

Regular physical activity is important for maintaining a healthy back. Exercise increases strength and endurance in your back and allows the muscles to function better.

3. Maintain a healthy weight.

Being overweight can cause strain and stress, especially in the lower back. Maintaining a healthy weight will help take the stress off your back muscles and prevent pain.

4. Follow a nutritious diet.

Your body needs the right nutrients, so it's important to fuel it properly. Maintaining a nutritious diet will not only help you lose weight, but also help to prevent back pain.

5. Remember to stretch.

Regular stretching exercises help to keep the muscles and ligaments in your back flexible. Overall, stretching prevents muscle strain and soreness, and helps to prevent further injuries.

6. Sleep smart.

Sleeping on your back may be the best way to sleep to prevent back pain. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your legs, and if you sleep on your stomach, place a pillow underneath your stomach to add support.

7. Use proper lifting techniques.

Lifting puts more stress on the back than any other activity. When lifting heavy objects, be sure to ask for help, and let your legs do the work, bending at the knees, keeping your back straight, and keeping objects close to your body. Never bend at the waist.

8. Wear the right footwear.

Believe it or not, your feet do affect the way your back works and feels. Wearing proper footwear, although it may mean retiring your high heels, can go a long way toward preventing back pain.

9. Quit smoking.

In addition to countless other health benefits, quitting smoking can help to prevent back pain. Smoking increases your sensitivity to pain and interferes with blood circulation. It also reduces the flow of nutrients to the muscles and joints, making the back weaker.

10. Manage stress effectively.

The stresses in our lives affect us on a daily basis and can be hard to manage. Find your own ways to relax on a daily basis. Relieving stress can reduce the back pain that is caused by tense muscles.

11. Keep moving.

Avoid standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time, which puts stress on your back. Moving, in contrast, keeps the back muscles and joints loose.

12. Keep your core strong.

The stronger your abdominal muscles are, the less strain it puts on your muscles in your back.

13. Adjust areas of your life.

Take a close look at the setup of your house, office, and work area, and try to adjust it in a way that will reduce physical demands and help you maintain good posture. For example, any area that requires you to constantly bend over to fulfill a task should be reconfigured.

14. Get regular checkups.

Regular checkups by a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, or personal or athletic trainer can help to prevent back pain. These professionals can evaluate your posture and spinal alignment and suggest ways to prevent or manage future back pain.

15. Be smart.

Remember, an injury to the back can be costly and extremely painful. So seek out activities that will help you maintain a healthy and strong back, and avoid ones that could cause strain or stress.