ATLANTA - We bend over hundreds of times of day without thinking about it.
"Some people are built tough enough they can bend over with good or bad posture, and it doesn't affect them," says orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Scott Boden, Director of the Emory Orthopedics and Spine Center. "Then, there are other folks, who've either had problems or are a little bit weaker."
Dr. Boden says nearly 80 percent of Americans will have at least one significant episode of back pain in their lifetime.
He says researchers have spent years studying ways to prevent back pain, but it seems to happen randomly.
"It can happen to somebody who is a physical laborer, and lifting all the time," Boden says. "It can happen to an administrative assistant, who is sitting at a deck and just twists and bends to pick up a piece of paper on the floor."
While we can't entirely prevent a back sprain, Dr. Boden says, there are ways to unnecessary wear and tear on your spine.
"I think the riskiest thing is if you're going to bend over and pick up something heavy," Boden says. "If you're using your back muscles to lift that, as opposed to your legs, that's when you're going to put yourself at a little higher risk of getting a back sprain."
Avoid lifting anything that weighs more than about 20% of your body weight.
When you do lift heavier items, spread your feet about shoulder's width apart, and bend with your knees, not your waist.
Tighten your stomach muscles, and move slowly, trying not to twist your back one direction or another.
"You've heard the expression 'Lift with your legs, not with your back,'" Boden says. "So, if you're lifting heavy things, you want to be using your legs to do the lifting, not bending your spine to do the heavy lifting."
If you sprain your back, Boden says, don't panic.
Most people will recover with a few days' rest.
Doing gentle stretching movements and exercise can also help relieve a back strain.
If the pain is severe or radiating down your leg, Boden says, seek medical care.