How to deal with daily chores if you have back pain

If you have back pain, it can make everyday living tough and doing day-to-day chores can be even more of a burden. But help is at hand. Here are some tips to tick off your everyday tasks safely, so you can enjoy the rest of your day. An added bonus is these all count as exercise, which can actually help to improve back pain.

A woman sitting on her bed holding her back in pain

It’s not what you do but how you do it

Life can be challenging if you have to live with back pain. Cleaning your house, mowing your lawn, washing your car, doing the weekly shop, all present even more of a challenge. But if the thought of trawling your vacuum around the house fills you with dread just thinking about the pain it will trigger, think again. It’s not the actual chores that will hurt you, it’s how you do them. If you take some steps to take care of yourself, you might just be able to avoid getting any pain from them at all.

Here are some tips to think about before you approach some common chores. Take a minute to think about how to apply these tips rather than forging straight ahead!

Vacuuming and mowing the lawn

What’s important here is to protect your back. Instead of going back and forth over small areas, do a longer 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. Who said you can’t incorporate yoga into household chores?!

Doing the laundry

When you’re unloading the washing machine, something as little as a stuck sock can trigger a whole lot of pain unless you’re careful. When you reach for items, squat down so you get level with the washing machine. This should reduce the strain on your back and strengthen your knees.

Doing the weekly shop

Although it’s tempting to get everything done in one go, think if there might be a better way of doing things. If you do a big shop, rather than taking all the heavy bags in from your car, unload in several trips. If you do have a heavy item to lift, engage your leg muscles and your stomach muscles so they do most of the work. Keep the item as close to your body as you can while you lift it. And take your time. Or even better, shop online and get it delivered.

Gardening

It’s important to follow my advice about lifting heavy things here, as with your groceries. If you’re going to pot some plants, bring your planters up to your level so you don’t stoop over and strain your back. If you want to plant some saplings, you could kneel on something soft to protect your knees.

Washing the dishes, cooking at the stove, or ironing

For chores that involve standing in one place for a long time, it’s 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 ‘bracing’ them, as you would if you were about to cough or laugh. Then, tuck your tail bone underneath you, lifting your pelvis up and lightly contracting your glutes (buttock muscles). Hold this for 10 seconds and then release. Repeat as many times as you feel comfortable.

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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