How to do housework without making back pain worse

Has this ever happened to you? You’re going about your day doing your usual day-to-day jobs – something as simple as taking the rubbish out, weeding the garden, folding up washing or even changing the bed, then you feel a sharp pain in your back and you can hardly move. Sound familiar?

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 3:14 pm
Vacuuming can cause back pain.
Vacuuming can cause back pain.

Just a few weeks ago this happened to one of our patients Annette, 57, from Guisborough. She was making the most of a quiet weekend in, and before sitting back and relax, she decided to do some spring-cleaning.

Annette was fine to begin with, but as soon as she went to turn over her mattress she put her back out. At first the pain wasn’t so bad, but 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.”

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But the next day the pain felt worse. Her back started to ache when she sat down, she struggled to find a comfortable position to fall asleep, and she couldn’t stand without being in agony – and she had a weekend away in the Lakes planned.

How was she going to get away and walk around the Lake District now with a back so painful?

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.

Many people will ‘put up’ with a bad back for days (even weeks), hoping the pain will go away, but you don’t have to wait and suffer for so long – especially if it’s getting in the way of daily life and even trips away.

Here’s three quick tips for everyday housework jobs to help make back pain a thing of the past – because chores themselves aren’t to blame, it’s how you ‘do’ them.

Firstly, when using the vacuum or a mop: one of the most common mistakes is reaching out with your 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 fix this, the key is to keep your hips and shoulders moving towards the work.

So instead of leaning forwards and twisting, 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.

Secondly, 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, bending at the waist repeatedly will strain your back muscles. I tell my patients to do something I like to 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, the higher your opposite leg should go so that you can keep your balance, reducing the strain on your muscles.

Finally, rushing around the house to get everything done, one thing to remember is to be kind to yourself and take 20-minute breaks throughout. Put the kettle on and relax with a brew 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.

For more tips on easing back pain like this, go to my website to get your free copy of my special report with nine tips on how to avoid back pain. Go to www.paulgoughphysio.com/back-pain