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Back Off From Back Pain

Just because I’m getting older doesn’t mean I have to give in to back pain. Neither do you

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back pain, Martina (Peter Dazeley/Getty IMages)

A strong core (that's your torso and pelvis area) can help prevent back pain. — Peter Dazeley/Getty IMages

En español l My doctor once told me that a major cause of back pain is simply getting older, along with everyday wear and tear. Feeling as young as I do, and with yet another birthday around the corner, I'm not willing to accept that judgment!

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Luckily, I have not had the types of back problems — from degenerative discs to arthritis — that many of my tennis pro contemporaries have experienced (knock on wood).

But that raises a question: Why have I been so fortunate, despite all my years of playing tennis and other potentially back-wrecking sports? I can think of four possible reasons. I want to share them with you because I think they may help you keep your own back healthy and strong, no matter your age.

1. Maintain good posture

From my earliest school days, I had to sit up straight on old wooden benches, and the teachers made us keep our hands behind our backs on the theory that it would improve our posture. They were very rigid about our posture. We had to raise our hand up very straight and high when we had something to say, and we were supposed to raise only our index and middle fingers.

Because I usually knew the answers to the teacher's questions, I would often lean back straight against the back of my bench and simply keep my arm up. (Maybe that built up my muscles for my serve!)

Looking back, I'm glad they were strict about posture because it gave me enough strength and control to hold my back in proper alignment — whether I was sitting, standing or moving. If your posture is lacking in any way, such as a sway back or hunchback, you could create a muscular imbalance and physical stress. Slouching, in particular, like so many of us do over our computers and desks, stresses the neck, shoulder and lower back, and can compress internal organs.

Try to stay aware of your posture while sitting and standing. When sitting, lift your head and keep your eyes forward. Pull your chin in slightly so that your head and neck are lined up. Lift your chest and pull your shoulders back so that you don't slouch.

When you're standing, try to keep your hips, knees and heels stacked in alignment. Keep your body weight centered over your feet and your spine in an erect, neutral position.

Next page: Protect your back with core training. »

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