You’re going about your day doing your usual day-to-day jobs, you could be doing something as simple as taking the trash out, loading up the dish washer, folding up your laundry or even changing the bed then all of a sudden you feel a sharp pain in your back and you can hardly move…
Just a few weeks ago, this happened to one of our patients Karen, 57, from Edison.
She was enjoying her quiet weekend, and before she planned to relax for the day she decided to do some cleaning. Karen was fine to begin with, but as soon as she went to turn over her mattress she put her back out completely.
At first the pain wasn’t so bad, but then a few hours later her back began to stiffen up…
Like most people we see she thought at first ‘oh it’s just a stiff back, I’ve probably got a bit carried away with the cleaning, it’s happened before.’ But the next day the pain was still there, and it felt even worse!
Karen’s back started to ache when she sat down, she struggled to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in, and she couldn’t even bring herself to stand without being in agony AND she has a weekend away in the Poconos planned…
How is she going to get away now with a back so painful?…
Now you might be thinking this won’t happen to you, not with something as basic as everyday chores, but when you consider that most of us do some form of jobs around the house, that’s a lot of backs that could potentially become sore! And not just that, most people we see say they suffer from back pain when doing routine activities such as chores that cause flare-ups.
The thing is, many people will “put up” with a bad back for days (even weeks!), hoping the pain will go away on it’s own eventually, but you really don’t have to play the waiting game and suffer for so long – especially not if it’s getting in the way of daily life and even trips and events that you’ve been looking forward to for ages!
So how about I give you three quick tips for everyday household chores to help make agonizing back pain a thing of the past – because chores themselves aren’t to blame (even though we’d like to think they are), it’s how you “do” them.
1. When using the vacuum cleaner or a mop: one of the most common mistakes people make is reaching out with their arms while bending at the waist over and over again.
Bending over in awkward positions can place a lot of strain on your muscles – especially in your back! To help fix this the key is to keep your hips and shoulders moving towards the work.
What I mean by this is instead of leaning forward and twisting your back, step forward in the direction of the movement with one foot and bend slightly at the knee, allowing your upper body to stay upright to reduce any strain.
2. When doing the washing, picking up items and rescuing that lost sock from the bedroom floor, leaning over can trigger off back pain – similar to sweeping and using the vacuum cleaner, bending at the waist repeatedly will strain your
back muscles. To get around this I tell my patients to do something I like to call the “golfer’s lift”, it has this name because it’s similar to how golfers pick up a ball.
When you reach for items with your left hand balance yourself by lifting your right leg up in the air. If you need extra support, place your opposite hand on a nearby surface. If you’re reaching with your right hand, reverse the direction. The deeper you reach with your hand, the higher your opposite leg should go so that you can keep your balance while simultaneously reducing the amount of strain on your back muscles.
One more thing, I know it can be easy to get caught up, rushing around the house to get everything done but one thing to remember is to be kind to yourself and take 20 minute breaks throughout. Relax with a hot cup of coffee before returning to your chores.
If you start feeling any signs of pain, walk, stretch, and rest your back.
Don’t allow yourself to get so busy checking chore off of your to-do list that you forget the safe way to move your body.
Start using these tips, you’ll be keeping your back safe.
Dr. Chan has given numerous workshops and talks on “How to End Neck and Back Pain?” at local libraries, senior centers, and community centers. He is now a trusted health and wellness advisor in the local community.