Tips for Completing Everyday Tasks with Back Pain

You can’t always prevent back pain in everyday living. Unfortunately, most people will suffer from an aching back at some point in their lifetime. The good news is there are ways you can take some of the pressure off your back and still get things done.

“There are strategies you can use to decrease discomfort while you move through your to-do list and facilitate return to feeling more like yourself,” says Chelsea Barron, DPT, a physical therapist at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “Although your first instinct may be to stop all activity when in pain, remember that motion is medicine so it’s important to try to maintain activity within tolerance.”

Barron offers these 8 tips for completing everyday tasks when faced with acute back pain.

  1. Because vacuuming, cleaning and yard work can take a toll on your back, try limiting repetitive twisting and bending by tackling such tasks in chunks. Break the work up into shorter bouts that end before you feel fatigued.
  2. For tasks that may require repeated forward bending, like gardening, cleaning the bathtub or taking laundry out of the dryer, consider using a half-kneeling position (also known as a “down on one knee” position). You may want to use a cushion to kneel on and if the task is longer than a couple of minutes, switch knees periodically.
  3. If standing to perform ordinary tasks like ironing or folding laundry increases your low back pain, try keeping one foot on a small step stool. This can change the position of your pelvis and low back. Switch feet and shift weight as needed to maintain comfort.
  4. The body is made for moving, so sitting or standing in the same position for too long while working may aggravate back pain. Gently stretch, shift your position, and take short walks when you can. It’s great to mix it up at your workstation so you spend time in both sitting and standing positions.
  5. When you sit to do a task, sit with your feet comfortably on the floor whenever possible. If your seat is too high, try using a small step stool under your feet.
  6. Although it’s undeniable that high heels can make for cute footwear, they aren’t the best choice for the feet or back. Try comfy work flats or even tennis shoes.
  7. Rather than bending from only the waist and rounding through your low back to pick up a heavy object, take a wide stance with your feet, then bend from your knees and hips to distribute the weight. Squatting and hip hinging movements are good to learn for lifting from the floor.
  8. If you notice that reaching overhead causes low back pain, it’s possible you could be extending through your lumbar spine to compensate for lack of mobility in another area, like your shoulders. Reach overhead without anything in your hands and notice if your lower ribcage flares out and/or you lean your upper body backwards. Bring your arms down, then perform the movement again while trying to keep your ribcage stacked directly over your pelvis.

Barron notes that if at any time you experience a significant increase in pain or spreading of pain to the legs, you should discontinue the activity and seek the advice of a physician or physical therapist. If you are currently in pain or suffer from recurring or chronic low back pain, ask your doctor for a referral to see a physical therapist.

“Ultimately, there are multiple factors that can contribute to back pain and there isn’t a one size fits all approach to managing and treating it. Working with a physical therapist can help you determine the best approach to address your pain, learn skills to better manage acute pain and develop a strong foundation to reduce the likelihood of recurrence,” she says.

Although back pain is a shared experience for most Americans, more often than not it isn’t caused by a serious condition. “Most people with low back pain recover with conservative treatment. Developing back-healthy habits for the long run can help reduce the occurrence of pain, and help you manage pain should it happen,” Barron adds.

Learn more about your spine health by taking the Back Health Assessment to measure your back pain, or visit YourBackHealth.com for more information.

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