During the pandemic we have been home a lot more and that means doing a lot more housework. You could be doing something as simple as taking the trash out, gardening, folding your laundry, or even changing the sheets when all of a sudden you feel a sharp pain in your back and you can hardly move… Sound familiar? Just a few weeks ago this happened to one of our patients, Ann, 57 from South Bay. She was making the most of a quiet weekend, and before she planned on relaxing, she decided to do get the cleaning done. Anne 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, at first she thought “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! Anne’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 had a weekend away planned. How was she going to get away with a back so painful?
“That Only Happens To ‘Other People'”
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 flareups. 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 away and events that you’ve been looking forward to for ages!
So, how about I give you a few quick tips for everyday housework jobs to help make agonizing back pain a thing of the past – because chores themselves aren’t to blame (even though we’re like to think they are), it’s how you ‘do’ them.
Here We Go
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 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.
2. When doing the washing, picking up items and rescuing that lost sock from the bedroom floor, leaning over can trigger back pain – similar to sweeping and using the vacuum, bending at the waist repeatedly will strain your back muscles. To get around this, I tell my patients to do something I call the ‘golfer’s reach’, it has this name because it’s similar to how golfers pick up a ball. When you reach for items with your right hand, balance yourself by lifting your leg up in the air. If you need extra support, place your opposite hand on a nearby surface. If you’re reaching with your left hand, reverse the directions. 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.
Real Life Applications
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. Put the kettle on and relax with a cup of tea or coffee before returning to your chores. If you start to feel any signs of pain try walking, stretching and rest your back. Don’t allow yourself to get so busy checking chores off 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. I hope these tips will be helpful the next time you do your cleaning. I’ll be back again next week talking about back pain, and how to ease it and deal with less of it when working in an office. Until then, have a great week!
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