LACEY (WA) – Have you ever been going about your usual daily jobs or chores such as taking out the trash, gardening, laundry, or even making your bed when you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your back that leaves you hardly able to move?
Well you’re not alone! This recently happened to one of our patients, Anne, who is 57 and from South Bay. It was a quiet weekend for her and she planned on enjoying some down time once she got some cleaning done. However, as soon as she went to turn her mattress over, her back completely gave out.
Initially the pain wasn’t so bad but as time passed, her back began to stiffen up. Like most people we see her first thought was, “it’s just a stiff back from getting carried away with cleaning. I’ve dealt with this before.” This time was different though. The next day the pain was still there and it even got worse! Anne’s back started to ache after she sat down and she even struggled to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in. Not to mention, she couldn’t even bring herself to stand without being in agony AND she had already planned a weekend getaway. How was she ever going to be able to enjoy her getaway with a back injury?
Now, you might be thinking this won’t happen to you. Not with something as basic as everyday chores. But to put it in perspective, almost all of us do some form of job/chore around the house on a daily basis that could cause similar back pain to Anne’s’ at a moment’s notice. And as a friendly reminder, majority of the patients we see say they suffer from back pain flare-ups after doing routine activities such as chores.
The issue for many though is that they will just accept their back pain and just ‘put up’ with it for days (even weeks!) at a time. If you’ve had back pain before, did you at some point just hope the pain will go away on its own? Unfortunately, this is a waiting game you’re likely going to lose, especially if the pain interrupts your daily life or future plans; like it did with Anne. However, the good news is that you don’t have to play this waiting game!
Below are a few quick tips I have developed to implement in everyday housework jobs to help make agonizing back pain a thing of the past! As a reminder, chores themselves aren’t to be blamed, it’s how you ‘do’ them.
- 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 an awkward position 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 that is, instead of learning forwards 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.
- When picking up items such as rescuing that lost sock from the bedroom floor, your back pain can easily become triggered. Similar to vacuuming or sweeping, bending at the waist repeatedly will strain your back muscles. To help, adapt the ‘golfer’s reach’ whenever you need to pick something up from the ground. You’ve likely done it before if you play golf! If you haven’t done it before, it’s simple. When you reach for an item from the ground with either hand, balance yourself by lifting your leg from the opposite side up in the air behind you (ex, right hand-left leg). If you need extra support simply place your opposite hand on a nearby surface. Also, the further down you reach, the higher your leg should go!
- Take some breaks! I certainly understand how easy it can be to get caught up rushing around the house to get chores done. However, it’s important to be kind to yourself and take 15-20 minute breaks throughout daily/weekly chores. Simple way to force some breaks could be to start a kettle or coffee maker so that you can reenergize with a cup of tea or coffee before returning to your chores. If you do feel any signs of pain try a walking break or some gentle stretching and most importantly, give your back some rest!
Don’t allow yourself to get so busy checking chores off your to-do list that you forget the importance of safe body mechanics when moving around. I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you do your chores/cleaning. Stay tuned for next week as I’ll address back pain while working in an office. Until then, have a great week!
The author, Jennifer Penrose, is a Physical Therapist and owner of Penrose Physical Therapy. If you have any questions about back pain, you can call (360) 456-1444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org