Back pain and doing daily chores

The following advice explains how to do some common daily chores in a safe and easier way. You might have a little bit of pain when you do some of these activities, but this won’t be harmful if you pace yourself and do as much as you feel able.

Make sure you listen to your body, but don’t avoid or be afraid to move. Not moving actually makes back pain worse. And, staying active as much as you can helps stop back pain from coming back.

Vacuuming and mowing the lawn

Instead of going back and forth over small areas, try to do a longer, smooth sweep to each end of the room or garden in one go. It should be less jarring on your joints. And rather than bending at your waist, step forward with one foot and bend slightly at the knee. This will allow your upper body to stay upright in a partial lunge. You’ll also be able to keep the vacuum cleaner close to you which will minimise strain on your back.

Doing the laundry

When you’re unloading the laundry from the machine, kneel down to the washing machine so that you’re balanced and can get in close. Use your arms to support you on the machine and floor.

When you’re hanging the washing up on the line with a basket of laundry at your feet, move slowly and take your time. Distraction techniques can be helpful here – try taking your thoughts from your back pain to other things, like what you can see, hear, and smell around the garden.

Another good and enjoyable distraction for ‘turning down’ back pain while you’re doing chores is listening to your favourite music or listening to audiobooks or comedy shows.

Doing the weekly shop

If you do a big shop, unload your shopping in several trips rather than trying to carry all the bags into the house in one go. It’s tempting to want to get everything inside in one trip, but you might risk hurting your back more. If you do have a heavy bag or box to lift, draw your belly button gently in towards your spine. This engages your deep, supportive abdominal (tummy) muscles. Keep the item as close to your body as you can while you lift it. And take your time.

Planning your lifts can be helpful too, making sure you have a clear walkway from the car to the house for example.

Getting the gardening done

For gardening, pacing yourself is key. It’s important to avoid being in bent, stooped positions for long amounts of time. Stand to stretch every now and again and give your muscles some rest time – make a cup of tea for a break. Or if there’s a lot to do, break the gardening up over a few days rather than doing it all in one go.

If you’re going to pot some plants, bring your planters up to your level or kneel down next to them so you don’t stoop over and strain your back. To move a heavy planter from one end of your work bench to the other, reduce the strain on your back and use your legs instead. Do this by lunging sideways and shift your weight from one leg to the other. Then slide the planter across and avoid lifting and twisting your back where possible.

If you want to plant some saplings, you could kneel on a cushion or use knee pads to protect your knees. When you’re working at ground level it can help to place one hand on the ground or on your thigh for support. Try not to round your back, keep it straight and always bend from your hips.

Washing the dishes, cooking or ironing

Chores that involve standing in one place for a long time offer a great opportunity to try to focus on boosting your core strength. Your core is your midsection and involves all the muscles in the front, back and sides. While you’re standing, try to engage your lower tummy muscles by drawing your belly button in towards your spine, as you would if you were about to cough or laugh. Then, tuck your tail bone underneath you, and lightly contract your glutes (buttock muscles). Repeat little and often – it shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

Washing the car

Washing the car involves a range of movement, from stretching and reaching to carrying heavy buckets of water. Be careful not to over-reach with your sponge – keep moving into a better position to reach the areas you need to rather than trying to stretch and cover the whole area from one position. A stool to reach the roof can be helpful too.

If you’re carrying buckets of water, keep the bucket close to your body. Remember to engage your leg muscles and your stomach muscles so they do most of the work.

Doing DIY

If you’re putting furniture together, it’s easy to get yourself into an awkward position, especially if you’re trying to decipher the instructions at the same time. Ensure you’re kneeling on the floor or bring the furniture pieces up to your level on a table, rather than stooping or bending over too much. Keep moving and having breaks too, so that you’re not holding the same positions for too long.

Playing with your kids on the floor

Not a chore exactly! But when you’re playing Lego, tea parties or building towers on the floor, finding the most comfortable position and not staying in it longer than comfort allows might be helpful. For some people this might be kneeling or sitting cross-legged, whereas for others lying down might feel better. Move to pick up any scattered toys rather than reaching for them.

Picking your child up

It can be easy to pick your child up without preparing your own body first, but this can cause strain and injury. Before you pick them up, get into a good posture – bend your back, hips and knees forward slightly. When you pick up your child, hold them close to your body and use the strength in your legs to return to standing. Keep your upper body steady and try not to twist or bend while they are in your arms.

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