In a recent international study on low back pain, over 2,500 people suffering with some kind of acute and/or chronic back pain took part in a back pain survey. One aspect of that survey asked, “What are your most helpful tips to help relieve back pain for other sufferers?”
The most popular answer was related to lifting heavy objects. The most often-stated advice was, in a phrase, to bend your knees and not your back. More emphatically, as one survey participant put it, ‘Never bend from the waist, not even to pick up a pin.’
Some of the following advice about lifting to avoid low back pain is standard; you may have heard it before. Other suggestions are more unusual but equally useful. You will also receive advice about how to handle the three most common ‘back breaking’ lifting activities mentioned in this survey – lifting a baby, lifting shopping, and lifting heavy objects around the house and garden.
How to Pick Up and Carry Miscellaneous Objects
- Position your feet about shoulder-width apart with one foot a shoe length in front of the other. This position makes it easier to keep your back straight, to get up and down, and to maintain your balance.
- Keep whatever you’re picking up close to your body. A 4.5 kg (10 lb) object extended just a few centimeters away from your body can strain your back.
- Make sure that you don’t strain your neck by sticking your chin out. Keep it tucked in.
- Always bend your knees rather than your back.
- If you need to lift a heavy object, get help. It is much better to wait for help than to struggle alone and risk further damage to your back.
How To Carry Shopping To Prevent Low Back Pain
It may be neat and efficient to have all your shopping packed into a single cardboard box, but a heavy box is a disaster for lifting and carrying. Instead, it’s best to carry heavier items in a rucksack on your back and have bulkier, lighter items packed into two bags of roughly equal weight, with handles. It is much easier to carry shopping with your arms at your sides than to clutch bags to your chest. Lifting your arms while holding heavy packages puts more strain on the back, participants say.
You would have thought that driving to the supermarket would solve your shopping problem. However, taking a car on shopping outings can actually cause back sufferers more low back pain problems. When you have to walk home with your shopping, you tend not to take most of the store with you. Not so when you’re driving. This leads us to one of the Top Ten Back Wreckers in our survey: getting shopping into and out of a car boot. If the boot of your car was at the level of your rear window, you wouldn’t have a problem. Unhappily, though, no one has designed a car with the floor of the boot at this height.
So, even if you’re driving, avoid heavy boxes. Avoid bags that are “weightlifters” specials or else, when removing objects from the boot, you’ll be bending perilously at the waist and leaning forward to grab the bottom of the bag or box. And that could lead to trouble and more low back pain. Also, lift bags out of the boot, one at a time, by the handles, or skip the boot altogether if you can and put your shopping on the back or front seat close to the door.
If you are suffering an acute episode of low back pain, have your shopping delivered. Don’t worry about treating yourself with kid gloves. If it’s strenuous exercise you want, work out under supervision at a gym. From what survey participants tell us, it seems safer to bench-press 45 kg (100 lb) than to grunt and lift a 9 kg (20 lb) box of shopping off the floor of your car boot.
Four female UK survey participants had the following tips:
‘Use the disabled trolley, and put up with the filthy looks. Accept any help with lifting that’s going, or with big shops. Let someone else do it if you can. (Lifting and twisting at the same time is an absolute no-no with lower back pain!) It really doesn’t matter if you run out of cabbage; have sprouts instead. For small shops I take the bike so I don’t have to carry things. If you qualify, apply for a blue badge.’
‘Shopping is a problem. I can only do this by car. Choose a car that is easy to load/unload. I have a little Daewoo Matiz hatchback, no sill to lift bags over, and comfortable height for me. Fortunately most supermarkets now have more of the smaller, higher-level trolleys (one of the most effective “unintentional” back pain treatments in every day use). Do not use the deep ones, it really is asking for trouble. And if you need help loading or unloading, you’ve got to ask. Sometimes I leave the non-perishables in the car till someone can help me carry them in.’
“Never pick up anything big or heavy yourself or reach high up to get anything off a shelf. I did this once and will never do it again. I always ask for help and just say I have a very bad back, could they get something down for me, and then if it looks big or heavy I ask if they will carry it to the car for me. Most places are happy to help if you are just polite.’
‘If my low back pain is really bad I’ll do an Internet shop from a store that offers online shopping, which is a brilliant service.’
Lifting and Carrying Babies and Children
To have them is to love them. And to love them is to want to pick them up, hold them over your head, and delight them by giving them piggybacks and rides on your shoulders.
Not to be able to do these kinds of things is the most heartbreaking situation a back sufferer can encounter. With this in mind, here is some advice from survey participants about minimizing your low back pain problems and maximizing your pleasure with your children.
Avoid the cradle or Moses basket on a stand. It is cute, charming and possibly an even greater plague for back sufferers than car boots. The Moses basket is precisely the wrong height – too high to let you kneel on the floor and comfortably reach your baby, and too low for you to reach your baby without bending yourself out of shape.
One solution is to use a big wicker laundry basket instead; line it with soft blankets and place it on the floor or at the level of a changing table – about midriff high. Fastening it securely to a platform or a sturdy, low table may do the trick. When the child is big enough for a cot, don’t lean over the bars to lift the baby in or out. Instead, drop the collapsible side, get down on your knees, and go from there.
Playpens are another macabre invention designed without parents who have low back pain. If you can’t avoid playpens, at least get one with a side that folds down in seconds, allowing you to kneel, rather than lean over, to pick up your child.
Changing tables take up space and aren’t cheap, but most survey participants with children consider them essential. If you don’t have one, you can kneel and change the baby on the floor or on a low bed.
Sit in a rocking chair to feed or lull your baby to sleep. Rocking chairs have been popular with chronic back pain sufferers for a long time. The backs of these chairs are usually straight. The rocking movement, according to some back sufferers, may ease stiffness and discomfort for you, while helping to calm the baby.
The least stressful way to carry an infant a long distance is on your back in a carrier. It may seem impersonal not to wear the carrier in front where you can see your child, but babies don’t seem to mind, and your back will thank you.
Avoid the hip carry. A mother of twins in the US survey routinely used to pick up and carry her two-year-old twins, one on each hip, until a doctor who was a friend of the family pointed at her and exclaimed, ‘That is the cause of your low back pain problem.’ The hip carry was used by many mothers and fathers in this survey. And most realized at some point that the technique was causing them lower back pain.
If your child and your back are acting up at the same time, and your child wants to be held, try to comfort him or her while you’re kneeling or while both of you are lying down.
Piggyback rides are easier on you if your child can climb up on a chair and then grab hold of you while you’re standing.
A top-of-your-shoulders ride isn’t the worst thing for your back. It’s lifting your child onto your shoulders that’s the real problem. Have your child get on a chair and climb on your shoulders while you are kneeling with your back to the chair.
Felicity, a UK survey respondent, had some very useful advice on this subject:
Young children do learn about your capabilities and will adapt: does it really matter if they have odd socks on and you can’t reach to sort them out? Some things simply have to go by the by and in a way this gives you energy to concentrate on doing the best you can.’