Whether we do it because we like it – or because we have to – housework and yard work can cause neck and back pain to flare up, leaving us sore or even worse, causing an injury. If you have a pre-existing issue in your neck or back, you’ve always got to be cautious about reinjuring yourself. And if you don’t have that kind of pain already, the last thing you want is to start down a path of chronic back or neck pain. Fortunately, you have more control over this than you think.
Here are five ways to prevent you from experiencing minor annoyances to major pain that can occur from doing household chores. Take them to heart and you can have a clean house, a nice yard, AND feel well!
First and foremost, wear supportive shoes. I cannot tell you how many of my patients complain that their back pain flared up horribly over the weekend after cleaning and cooking a lot. With some probing, I often find out that they were walking barefoot around the house while doing all of those activities. I hear similar stories with yard work only to find out that the patient was wearing flip flops in the yard. Having proper arch support in the feet can take stress off the knees, hip and back. So, start your house and yard work by wearing supportive shoes – or even better – wear custom made orthotics in your shoes for optimal support. Don’t have any? We can help you get some right here in our office.
Stay hydrated. You’ve heard me talk about hydration for many health reasons. It applies here as well. If it is hot outside, add some electrolytes to your water. Being well hydrated and not letting your electrolytes get too low will help prevent muscle cramping and spasms. My preference for this is EmergenC, as it is quick, inexpensive and easy to find at any drugstore.
Take a Stand
How you stand or bend can make a big difference in avoiding pain after household activities. When sweeping or raking, try a scissor stance with your legs instead of bending forward. Put one leg forward and one leg back, keeping your chest up while you sweep or rake. Switch feet every so often.
If your activity involves lifting, lift properly, slowly and mindfully! Keep your legs about a shoulder width apart. If the object is awkward or large, it is okay to widen your stance. Also make sure to:
- Get right in front of what you are lifting. Never lean to the side or twist to lift.
- Squat by bending the knees and flexing at the hips, pushing your buttocks backwards but keeping your chest up as much as possible.
- Hold the object you are lifting close to your body. When you set it down, do the same thing in reverse. Never twist or lean to the side to set the item back down.
Gimme’ a Break
Better yet, don’t try to do the entire task in one day. Because we live such busy lives, we have so little time. I often find that patients hurt themselves because they try to fit a large project into their one, free day of the weekend. Whether you can and should take on a large task in one day depends on your fitness level and how easily fatigued you get. So, you may want to just clean the bathrooms one day instead of the whole house! Or just do the front yard work and leave the back for another day instead of taking on your whole yard.
All the Right Moves
Exercises are not just for general fitness – specific ones can be preventive for pain. Since most house and yard work involves repeated bending, it is great to counteract that by taking breaks and doing a few McKenzie press ups if you are able. The video below shows how to do them properly. If you experience back pain during the press up, see if you can only go part way up without pain. You may also find that after one or two press ups, the pain starts to get better.
My Final Thoughts
I’ve found that it can be normal to feel a little sore the next day after doing a lot of house or yard work, similar to when you have had an intense day at the gym. So, a little soreness is no reason to be concerned. What I don’t want for you is joint and muscle injury or inflammation. If you do feel that you have caused something to flare up, use ice rather than heat to treat the painful area, as the issue more than likely involves inflammation. If the pain doesn’t resolve itself in a few days, give us a call, as it could be more serious.
Want more detailed information about yard work safety? Check out the American Chiropractic Association’s page dedicated to this information.