Why not fulfill that New Year’s resolution and take an even more proactive role in managing your back pain this year?

In addition to finding the right type of specialist(s) to diagnose and treat the cause of back pain, there are lots of things you can do on your own to complement medical treatments.

Let Your Mind Overcome Your Pain

Using relaxation and distraction techniques can help your brain ignore at least some of the pain signals it receives. Learning and practicing ways to reduce pain as little as 30 minutes 3 times a week can go a long way toward reducing your pain levels, as well as providing you with a stronger feeling of control over your body. Many patients report longer lasting effects the longer they practice these “mind over matter” techniques. For more information on this method for back pain relief, see the following article:

Modern Theories of Chronic Pain.

Be Choosy About Your Bed, Mattress and Pillows

It seems fairly intuitive that what you sleep on at night can have a big impact on the quality of your sleep and how you feel the next day. But there is actually very little medical research about what types of mattresses and beds are best for the back (including specialty beds, such as adjustable beds). This puts a large part of the onus on you to research and test the various beds, mattress and pillow options available. In one medical study, the findings showed that contrary to conventional wisdom, a medium-firm mattress is actually better than a firm mattress for most back pain sufferers. For more information, see the following article:

Choosing the Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain.

Regardless of your individual preferences, there are several guidelines that should be followed to help protect the spine while sleeping, and for people with specific conditions, customized sleep arrangements may be more comfortable. For example, patients with low back pain from degenerative disc disease may prefer to sleep on their stomach, using a relatively firm mattress and placing a flat pillow under the stomach and hips, which can further reduce stress on the lower back. For more information, see the following article:

Mattress Guidelines for Sleep Comfort.

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Lose Even a Small Amount of Weight

For people who are overweight, every additional pound they carry around adds strain to the muscles and ligaments in the back. To compensate, the spine can become tilted and stressed unevenly, which often leads to low back pain. According to the American Obesity Association, women who are obese or people who have a large waist size (>35 inches for women and >40 inches for men) are particularly at risk for lower back pain.

Watch: Video: 5 Overlooked Tips to Protect Your Lower Back

The best ways to lose weight and keep it off involve a new long-term routine of nutrition and fitness. Even a small loss in weight because of these reasons will have added benefits to your spine beyond the reduced strain from body weight. For more information, see the following article:

Weight Loss for Back Pain Relief.

Exercising for Your Back Pain

Exercise is probably the single most important thing you can do for your back. After experiencing pain or having back surgery, many patients naturally tend to overprotect their backs and avoid exercise. Without exercise, however, the supporting structures in the back gradually become stiff and weak, which in turn leads to increased pain. By keeping the back and abdominal muscles healthy and strong, they can better support your spine, hasten the healing process and minimize the chance of future pain or injury. Abdominal and back muscles don’t get much exercise from everyday activities, but spending 30 minutes daily on a series of simple exercises can greatly reduce or prevent ongoing back pain. For more information, see the following article:

Exercise and Fitness to Help Your Back.

There is a huge variety of techniques that can help reduce (and maybe eliminate) back pain—some more effective than others. Finding the approach that works best for you is a great goal for this year. For most people, it’s really up to the patient to decide on the course of back pain treatment. With that comes a great responsibility to carry out the plan and rely on your own initiative. You are best served by independently gathering reliable, unbiased information to understand your range of options and working with a spine specialist(s) to help get your back and spine as healthy and pain-free as possible.