Rest up – but don't overdo it. When your back hurts, you might want to do nothing but lie still. While that might not be a bad idea for a bit, resting too long can make pain linger longer than necessary.

"One of the major myths about back pain is that resting exclusively is the way to get better," says Dr. Borenstein, author of Back in Control! A Conventional and Complementary Prescription for Eliminating Back Pain (M. Evans, 2001). "We have come to realize is that rest and activity actually go hand in hand. You have to have an appropriate amount of both. You can't just lie down for weeks and expect to get better, but this also isn't the time to go out and sign up for a high-impact aerobics class."

Just getting up, walking and stretching can get the heart pumping and get oxygen to painful tissues to help them start healing, he says. Exercise can also help by increasing your body's production of its own natural painkillers called endorphins.

Lose weight, if you need to. The benefits of weight loss are probably greatest for people with the most weight to lose, but even those who carry around an extra 10 or 20 pounds could benefit from losing weight. Keep in mind that elaborate weight-loss plans are a distraction from the real key to losing weight – that is, burning more calories than you consume or consuming fewer calories than you burn.

For most people, that means increasing your level of exercise, while decreasing the amount you eat. A plus: The exercise you do to lose weight will likely have pain-relieving benefits of its own by producing endorphins.

Stop smoking. Thought you'd heard all of the reasons there were to stop smoking? Well, here's another: Smoking is bad for your back.

Smoking decreases oxygen to the various tissues that have difficulty getting oxygen in the first place such as the discs in your spine. "Discs that are deprived of oxygen are likely to degenerate, and discs that degenerate may cause pain down the road," says Dr. Borenstein. Smoking may also weaken the ligaments (tough bands of connective tissue that attach bones to one another) that support the spine, leading to instability.

Research has shown a high prevalence of spinal stenosis (a condition where the spinal canal is not large enough for the spinal cord) among smokers, and smoking is also a risk factor for osteoporosis, which can lead to painful vertebral fractures. Another negative: If you have a back problem that eventually requires surgery, studies show smoking slows the healing process.