Managing your back pain doesn’t just involve traipsing to physios, doctors, masseuses and Pilates classes. Creating an environment, which takes the load off your back, reduces muscle spasm and strengthens weak muscles, is definitely more important than any treatment you may attend.
Looks like I’m doing myself out of some work here!
Lower back pain is pretty common & for many people it’s a recurrent problem that needs managing, not just treatment - if that’s you, then read on!
Here are a few tips to make it easier at home.
In general, our spines like to move. Our western style of living encourages us be stationary for prolonged periods, e.g. Bending over a computer, standing at the kitchen bench or slumping in front of the tellie. This is not good for anyone, but particularly a grumpy spine, which is happier when it is stretched, moved and strengthened.
Lash out & buy a timer that attaches to your belt (cheap from sports stores) & alarm yourself to move every 30 mins.
Get up from the desk, do a few stretches, walk up the hall, get a drink or even better go outside for 5 mins.
Be strict with this, you will be amazed at how much better your back will feel at the end of the day, if you move regularly.
Doing anything repetitively is not good for our bodies.
Intersperse activities that are tough for your spine, with periods of rest or activities that your body is ok with. For example, rather than vacuuming the whole house at once, do 1 room, leave the cleaner where it is & do something different that doesn’t involve being bent over e.g. Dusting the furniture/ go for a walk/ lie down for 5 mins. Then later on, vacuum another room. Depending on how bad your pain is or how big your house is, it might take you 1-3 days to vacuum the house and guess what, your house gets clean, but your back doesn’t suffer for 2 days afterwards! The automatic robot type vacuum cleaners are a fantastic help and do the vacuuming for you, they aren’t cheap though, but a great saving for your low back.
Pacing yourself involves planning your activities for the day, so spend a few minutes jotting down what you are going to do & when. Having a plan will make you less likely to “overdo”, which leads to increased pain & the subsequent need to being stuck in bed or reaching for the pain killers.
Don’t wait for the pain before you change activity, often it is too late when you feel pain, as you have already irritated the tissue and probably set up an inflamed area. Prevention of pain is so much more efficient that trying to ease an aching back.
Listen to your body!
If you are not having a great day pain wise- then it’s not the day to clean out the pantry or dig out a garden bed. It is the day for keeping moving and pacing your activities.
Room by Room Hints
- Use a doona, not blankets, the bed is easier to make
- Rather than bending over to tuck in sheets, get on your knees, move around the bed staying on your knees.
- Electric blankets can be helpful for aching back
- Before you get out of bed in the morning, do a few stretches (your physio will tailor make you a program)
- Make sure your pillow is the right size for your neck (you guessed it, ask your physio for advice)
- Mattresses often have a lifespan of 8-10 years, if you are sleeping in a hammock shaped bed, your back won’t be happy. Likewise, sleeping on bed that is like a wooden plank, without support for your body’s curves, is not great for your spine
- Sex! Sometimes this is not so easy with a sore back, there are some tricks and positions that are less painful, ask your physio what is best for your particular back
- Laundry trolleys are inexpensive and essential; if you don’t have one, get one. Bending down to the floor repeatedly to pick up wet washing is dumb!
- Empty half the load of washing into the basket, hang it out & then come back for the rest. That means less time spent bent over.
- Top loader washing machines: If your back is sore, empty these using 1 hand propped on the side of the machine & the other picking the washing from the machine & putting it into the laundry basket.
- Front loader machines: squat down or kneel to empty them. If you have to lift the basket off the floor, do half a load at a time, grip the basket & straighten up using your legs, not your back. (If you are not sure how to do this- ASK YOUR PHYSIO)
- Re-organise your cupboards so that your most used items are in cupboards that are waist high or above, the less bending the better.
- Empty the dishwasher by squatting down, putting the items on the bench top from the squat position, then stand up & put the dishes away.
- If you are replacing your dishwasher, install the new one at waist height, with a shelf or drawer underneath it- your back will love it.
Living Room / TV Room
- Avoid sitting on the sofa, I haven’t found a sofa that gives enough back support. If you have to, grab a few scatter cushions and prop them behind your back
- If you are watching TV, lie down on the sofa rather than sit on it (boot the kids off!) Do some stretches while you at it!
- Cleaning bathrooms is tough. If you have teenagers, bribe them to clean it for you. If you don’t, then this is one of those tasks that you should pace with other less strenuous tasks.
- The bath: get on your knees, resting your belly on the side of the bath. Put your weight through one hand and scrub the bath with the other, moving up the bath slowly.
- Floor tiles - think 1950’s housewife and get on your hands and knees, if it needs a good scrub, it will be quicker and more efficient than trying to bend over & using a mop.
- Shower screens, there are companies that install protective adhesive films that can be placed over glass screens making them easy to wipe down & keep clean. Cleaning them regularly also helps reduce the time that they take to clean.
- Listen to your body, if an activity feels awkward or hard, it probably isn’t the thing for you
- Get a Physiotherapist that you trust to assist you with developing your own pacing programme
- Start all activities well within your limits and build slowly and regularly
- If you have a set back pain wise, reduce your activity programme accordingly. You wouldn’t insist on running 10kms if you sprained your ankle. Your back is not different, if it is grumpy be nice to it!
- Preventing pain is easier than trying to fix it!!
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