Protect your back and neck while doing chores
Nobody wants a back injury. If you have the misfortune of injury, you want to have hurt yourself doing something fun or adventurous – like rock climbing or sliding into home plate to score the winning run. But, in reality, the majority of patients hurt their backs while doing chores, on the job or sitting at their desks.
Talk about adding insult to injury – it’s bad enough you had to rake the leaves, and now you’re too sore to play with your kids.
Before you’re sidelined by vacuum cleaner, Methodist Health System neurosurgeon Nimesh Patel, MD, offers some advice to keep your back pain-free around the house.
Backbreaker #1: Washing Dishes
- Deep sinks may help you soak more dishes at a time, but the further you have to lean down, the more at risk you are for back pain. Dr. Patel says when you lean, have a small bend in your kees to take pressure off your back. Try this tip – stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and rest one foot inside the cabinet under the sink, alternating every few minutes. You can also put a chair near you and rest a knee on it.
- Try to load your dishwasher while sitting in a chair or squatting down.
Backbreaker #2: Yard Work
- Raking leaves – make sure you have a rake with a long handle that isn’t too heavy for you. That long handle keeps you from bending down too much. When you’re dropping the leaves in the leaf bag, bend your knees. And remember, if you’re using a leaf vac, the compressed leaves can get surprisingly heavy. Make sure you aren’t packing the leaves so tight that you can’t easily lift the bag!
- Mowing the lawn – Did you know hardware stores sell handle extenders? That’s to make sure you aren’t too short for the handle or so tall that you’re hunching over. D Patel says, “try to minimize the amount you’re pulling backwards; it adds more stress to the back. And when turning the mower, make a wide turn, not a twisting turn.”
- Gardening – You’re likely catching on: leaning down is back for your back. Invest in a garden “claw” so you can dig holes while standing up. Also, buy a little gardening seat, so you can plant flowers or pull weeds without bending down. You may also want to invest in an elevated garden bed. There are some models waist-high or chest-high. Bonus – makes it harder for rabbits to attack your crops!
Backbreaker #3: Vacuuming & Other Household Chores
- Vacuuming – You guessed it, don’t bend down. Stand proud with your chest pushed out slightly, and make sure to use your arms and legs, not your back, to move the vacuum back and forth. Get a light-weight vacuum with a long cord so you don’t have to keep stooping down to change the plug. Dr. Patel says, “It’s almost like doing a lunge. Place one foot in front, shift your weight onto that foot, then push off with your back foot as you vacuum back and forth.”
- Mopping – Get a mop with a long handle and stand upright as you push the mop back and forth. Use the sink to wring it out, not a bucket. Use the same mop to clean your tub – don’t get on your hands and knees.
Backbreaker #4: Poor Lifting Technique
Everyone knows the saying, “lift with your legs, not your back.” It’s true – you should bend at your knees, not your waist. Keep your back straight. Here are some other tips to keep you injury-free.
- Patel says, “keep the object close to you. The farther it is from your body, the more stress it puts on your back.”
- Push don’t pull. Pulling can put tension on your spine; pushing uses more arm and leg strength
- Don’t move something that weighs more than 20% of your body weight
- Never hold an item above your chest or below your knees
Backbreaker #5: Hardwood Floors
Hardwoods and ceramic tile are pretty, but surfaces with no give put more stress on your lower back. Place thick, non-skid rugs or mats on spots you frequently stand, such as in front of the sink.
If you’re following these tips and still suffering from severe neck or back pain, you may need to see a physician. Take our health risk assessment to see how you can get pain relief for a more enjoyable life.