Last week, we briefly discussed two myths to the causes of an aching back. This week we continue with two more.
MYTH #3 Most exercise is hard on your back
FACT Researchers from Samsung Medical Center in Korea found that working out at least three times a week actually reduced the risk for developing chronic back pain by 43 percent. Exercise strengthens your back muscles and increases blood flow to the disks, helping them withstand daily strain. Hitting the gym  regularly also keeps your waistline in check, which has a huge payoff for your back: A study in the journal Spine revealed that overweight people were nearly three times as likely to go to the hospital with a back injury than those at a healthy weight. Even as little as 5 or 10 extra pounds can put stress on your spine, increasing your risk of injury. Opt for low-impact aerobic exercise , such as walking, swimming , or using the elliptical machine , to strengthen your back without putting excess pressure on your disks or joints.
Still, it’s important not to do too much. Overexerting yourself—by lifting too-heavy weights or stretching past the point of comfort—is a surefire way to injure your back. To protect yourself while working out: Warm up with at least 15 minutes of light cardio to increase blood flow to back muscles. Next, observe your form in the mirror when lifting weights. Your back should always be straight, whether you’re working your biceps or your legs. Finally, avoid overstretching or bouncing ; those movements jar the spine and muscles.
MYTH #4 Back pain is always caused by an injury
FACT Between juggling a huge work deadline and planning your sister’s bridal shower, taking a time-out may seem like a luxury. But when it comes to caring for your back, it’s essential. According to a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, women who feel overwhelmed at home or work are more than twice as likely as their calmer counterparts to have lowerback pain. “Mental stress  causes the smallest units of the muscle, the fibers, to tighten,” says Ulf Lundberg, Ph.D., a professor of biological psychology at Sweden’s Stockholm University. Over time, clenched muscle fibers wear down, upping the risk for injury. And to make matters worse, your body’s natural response—an increase in muscle tension—can aggravate existing back problems.
So the next time you feel the pressure rising, make a point to work at least half an hour of relaxation  into your day no matter how frenzied you feel. A hot bath or shower is one of the best ways to decompress, because heat can relax your back muscle fibers. To boost the benefits even more, use lavender-scented bath beads or soap: In a Japanese study, people who sniffed the calming scent had lower levels of the stress hormone  cortisol. Your back already in knots? Get a massage . Find a massage therapist near you through the American Massage Therapy Association.