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As your back gets older, occasional aches can turn into chronic, perhaps disabling, pain. In the March issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch, Zachariah Isaac, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital, offers suggestions aimed at making sure that doesn't happen. His list:
Don't baby your aching back. Cutting back on activity because of temporary pain can lead to muscle weakness, which can make things worse.
Keep up a regular program of "core" exercises because those middle-of-the-body muscles are the ones that support your lower spine.
Stay limber, because tight muscles can increase pain.
Watch your posture. Focus on standing upright, and don't slouch when you sit.
Get enough sleep. "Poor sleep . . . alters brain chemistry, and you are more prone to developing a chronic pain state."
Stay positive and relax. Isaac notes that the spine's close relationship to the brain means that maintaining a good emotional state can have physical benefits. For example, he says, stress-relieving deep-breathing exercises can lessen the pain of a sudden backache.