It would be nice if you could participate in sports well into your baby boomer and senior years without suffering the discomfort of back pain. While back pain can strike at any age, there are ways you can cut down the risk of pain while enjoying 18 holes of golf, a tennis match with your significant other or a day soaking up sunshine at the ski slopes.

Dr. Jack Stern, a board certified neurological surgeon, who diagnoses and treats spinal injuries with both surgical and non-surgical approaches, has examined the growing problem of lower back pain and offers advice to men and women who won’t give up golf, tennis and other activities for the comfort of the living room easy chair.

In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Stern says you can pinpoint injuries by the sport. Calling it an interesting phenomenon, Stern points out that nearly every sport uses separate muscle groups. He says golfers, because they try to hit the ball long distances, suffer upper neck, mid-back and low-back muscular pain. “Baseball players tend to have cervical problems and upper-extremity problems from pitching and hitting…skiers fall and have significant back pain.”

Lack of preparation is a big reason injuries occur. Stern says there are professional athletes and “week-end warriors.” He says we live in a very fast world where young people will work all day, head to the slopes for a week-end of skiing, yet have trouble getting back to work Monday because of back pain. According to Stern, “They didn’t stretch before they got on the mountain, they didn’t stretch after they got on the mountain, they didn’t hydrate while they were on the mountain, they didn’t dress in layers.” He says another problem is lack of conditioning among amateur athletes.

Stern says sports injury rates are high, noting that in an emergency room on Sunday night, you’ll see people “who can’t move, can’t bend, can’t sit, can’t stoop, can’t turn, because they are having back and neck pains. It’s really an epidemic.”

How does one develop habits that can prevent future sports injuries? According to Stern, one should be taught, at an early age, the importance of stretching and weight training. “Unless we can get coaches and physical education teachers to start doing that early on, we’re going to have 60-year-olds and 30-year-olds who get injured more often than they probably should.” Healthy habits can be taught in elementary school, but for the rest of us, Stern offers several tips on how to guard against back pain: 1.Stay within your healthy weight range. 2. Exercise and strengthen your abdominals (a key element in strengthening your back). 3. Stretch. 4.Create a practice for yourself. Do it on a regular basis. Says Stern, “If you want to age gracefully, and you want to continue to do athletic activities for as long as you possibly can, if you just maintain those things I’ve suggested, you’ll be able to do it.”