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Get Chores Done Without Making Your Pain Worse

Topic Overview

It's a sad fact: You have back pain and you also have housework to do, children to take care of, and errands to run.

When you can't find someone else to do a chore for you, keep in mind these important rules:

  1. Bend forward carefully. When you must bend forward to empty the dishwasher, pick up clothes, make the bed, or do other chores, bend carefully in a way that doesn't cause pain.
  2. When lifting, use your leg muscles and your stomach muscles to do most of the work. And keep whatever you're lifting as close to your body as you can.
  3. Try not to make any twisting movements. If you're dusting and need to turn, move your whole body in the direction you need to go instead of twisting.
  4. Take rest breaks. Don't do any one type of movement for too long without taking a break. And try to alternate chores so you're not doing the same movement (even with breaks) for a long time.
  5. Do it later. If it hurts too much to do the chore, put it off until you feel better.
Tips for specific tasks

Vacuuming

  • Instead of pushing and pulling the vacuum back and forth, walk it all the way across the room and back. Stand up straight as you move.

Making the bed

  • Instead of several layers of sheets and blankets, use a duvet or a washable bedspread so there's only one layer to straighten up in the morning.

Housecleaning

  • Don't strain to reach. Try using a damp cloth on the end of a broomstick to reach low places. Or buy mops and other tools that have expandable arms.

Using the phone

  • Don't cradle the phone between your ear and your shoulder, not even for a little while. If you can't hold on to the phone because you're doing something with your hands, hang up and call back later. Or buy a hands-free phone.

Driving the car

  • When you get in, sit first and then turn so that you bring both legs into the car together. When you get out, do the reverse.
  • Pull your seat forward so that you can comfortably reach the pedals and the steering wheel. Your knees should be bent so that you don't have to lift your whole leg to step on the brake.
  • You may find driving more comfortable with a small pillow or rolled-up towel behind your lower back.

In the bathroom

  • Support bars in the bathtub and around the toilet can help you put less strain on your back as you get in and out or up and down.
  • Women can put a small stool in the shower so they have somewhere to put their feet when shaving their legs.

Washing dishes or ironing

  • For chores that require you to stand in one place, you might feel better with one foot slightly higher than the other. While doing dishes, open the cupboard below and place your foot on the ledge. While ironing, stack one or two books on the floor and put one foot on them. Remember to squat when putting those books on the floor!

Picking up children

  • Try to avoid picking up children while you're standing up. If you must, remember to lift properly.
  • Better yet, find a place to sit down and let the child come into your lap.

Gardening

  • Many gardening chores usually require bending forward. Whenever you can, sit, squat, or get on your knees instead.

Unloading the groceries

  • Taking in all the groceries at once may save time, but it won't help your back. Just think of the extra exercise you'll get by making several trips between the car and the kitchen.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last Revised February 15, 2012

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