10 ways you're damaging your back with every day tasks


Back pain is extremely common – affecting over half of us, recent research suggests.

A survey of 2,000 Americans commissioned by Samuel Hubbard Shoe Co. found 52 per cent were affected by the complaint.

If you suffer from such pain – the type that painkillers don’t offer much relief from – then you’ll understand the desperate feeling of trying any remedy.

But while you may be giving the heavy lifting at the gym a miss, you might not be fully aware that you could be making the problem worse by incorrectly carrying out every day activities.

Here an expert explains the ways in which you move when carrying out everyday activities from loading the dishwasher to carrying your child, could be keeping you trapped in a vicious cycle of chronic pain.

Jon Bongcawel, senior physiotherapist at Physio Med, shared with Mail Online how to start doing 10 daily tasks right to boost your chances of recovering more quickly.

Scroll down for exercises to help lower back pain

The way you carry out every day tasks – including leaning over a sink while brushing your teeth – could be keeping you trapped in a vicious cycle of chronic pain (stock image)

The way you carry out every day tasks – including leaning over a sink while brushing your teeth – could be keeping you trapped in a vicious cycle of chronic pain (stock image)

Mr Bongcawel said: ‘It may sound crazy that updating your Facebook status can damage your back but prolonged or regular activity in the incorrect position – no matter what you are doing – can strain your back and aggravate an existing injury.

‘Maintaining the correct posture, no matter what you are doing, is absolutely vital.

‘As a general rule, maintain a straight back as much as possible and bend your knees – and always be aware of what you’re doing’

1. Using mobile devices 

Whether sitting or standing, most of us hold devices in our lap, or below chest level, causing us to look down or lean forward, resulting in strain and muscle stiffness in the upper back and neck. 

Always hold the device at chest height, so the top of it is level with your eyes, and take regular screen breaks – staring too long is bad for your eyes too.

2. Brushing your teeth and washing the dishes

The man in this picture won't be smiling for much longer if he doesn't change his technique for washing the dishes (stock image)

The man in this picture won’t be smiling for much longer if he doesn’t change his technique for washing the dishes (stock image)

Also known as ‘waiter’s lean’, these tasks involve leaning forward over a sink – and the same risks apply to ironing at a board.

The danger is that you are repeatedly twisting, which can cause damage to your lower back, neck and shoulders. 

Instead, use a small foot stool or bathroom scale to lift one foot. This stops you from leaning, forces you to adjust your posture and keeps your lower back straight.

3. Vacuuming 

If you move your whole body while leaning and twisting to vacuum, it can hurt your upper and lower back. Similarly, over-reaching can put a strain on your shoulders and gripping the vacuum for extended periods is bad news for your elbows. 

Keep your back straight and move your arms, not your spine. Take regular breaks or share the task with someone else. 

Make sure the vacuum isn’t too heavy for you to move before buying it.

4. Emptying the dishwasher

Bending from the waist to load or unload a machine is something many people do – especially with heavy items such as pans – but it places strain on your upper back, lower back and hips.

Kneeling is no better as it is harsh on your knees, while repeatedly gripping and lifting items can damage your elbows.

Mr Bongcawel advises not to bend from the waist to load or unload the dishwasher

Instead keep your back straight and bend from the knees

Mr Bongcawel advises not to bend from the waist to load or unload the dishwasher (as shown left) – instead keep your back straight and bend from the knees (as in the right picture)

Keep your back straight and bend from the knees. Load the heaviest items at the front of the dishwasher and don’t twist when unloading them.

5. Putting children into car seats

Twisting and leaning forward or over-reaching while holding the baby can harm your lower back and shoulders. 

Hold the baby close to your body, bend with your knees and move your feet – don’t twist your back. 

Prepare by doing light back stretching exercises first – see below for the NHS recommended moves.

6. Carrying items up and down stairs and stocking high cupboards  

Twisting and over-reaching whilst carrying items damages your lower back, upper back and shoulders, while repeatedly lifting and carrying heavy loads can cause repetitive strain injuries to the knees. 

Hold items close to your body and keep your back straight. Twist from your feet, not your back or shoulders. 

Never try to carry something you struggle to even lift – get someone to help you instead.

7. Washing windows  

Twisting and over-using one arm is not good for your upper and lower back and shoulders, while gripping for extended periods and using repetitive motions can also cause elbow injuries.

The expert warns not to twist and over-using one arm like this – keep your body straight at all times (stock image)

The expert warns not to twist and over-using one arm like this – keep your body straight at all times (stock image)

Avoid using one side of the body more than the other by alternating hands or using a different hand to clean each window. 

Keep your body straight at all times and wash windows from a face on position. Use a ladder for high windows and take a break if necessary.

8. Making the bed 

Twisting and over-reaching to cover all four corners of the bed with sheets and duvets can cause havoc with a bad back.

Don’t bend over to reach across the bed, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Get someone to help, especially when changing duvet covers.

9. Watching TV

The physiotherapist says leaning forward in excitement can damage your lower back and sitting with your legs crossed can harm your hips and knees – instead sit with your back straight (stock image)

The physiotherapist says leaning forward in excitement can damage your lower back and sitting with your legs crossed can harm your hips and knees – instead sit with your back straight (stock image)

It doesn’t sound like much can go wrong from sitting watching telly – but given how much of it most of us do it’s important to think about your posture.

Sitting with your legs crossed can damage your hips and knees, and sitting for too long, or just leaning forward in excitement, can harm your lower back.

Stand up, or at least uncross your legs, every 20 minutes. Sit with your back straight and make sure you’re face-on to the screen, not at an angle.

10. Folding washing 

It’s yet another every day task you wouldn’t imagine can cause problems – but stooping over to fold clothes on a low surface, or doing it while sitting on the sofa and twisting from one side to the other, is a nightmare for your lower back. 

Doing this task while kneeling down won’t do your knees any favours either.

If you’re standing up to do your folding, put the clothes on a surface which is at waist height to stop you bending over. 

Alternatively, do it whilst sitting upright in a comfortable position at a table. 

And think ahead when putting your folded clothes away – try storing commonly used items, such as socks, in drawers at waist height, and those you use the least, like jumpers in the winter, in lower drawers.

EXERCISES FOR LOWER BACK PAIN

Bed rest used to be advised to help a bad back, but it’s now known that people who remain active are likely to recover more quickly, according to NHS Choices.

This may be difficult at first, but don’t be discouraged – your pain will start to improve eventually. Consider taking painkillers if the pain is stopping you from carrying on as normal. 

Going back to work will help you return to a normal pattern of activity and may distract you from the pain.

Below are exercises, from physiotherapist Nick Sinfield, that you can do to help reduce any lower back pain including tension, stiffness and soreness. 

When starting out, go gently to get used to the movements and work out how far you can go into each position without feeling pain. Aim to do this routine at least once a day if the pain allows. 

You can complement this routine with walking, cycling and water-based activities.

Seek medical advice before starting these back pain exercises, and to stop immediately if you feel any pain.

Bottom to heels stretch 

Start position: Kneel on all fours, with your knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Don’t over-arch your lower back. Keep your neck long, your shoulders back and don’t lock your elbows.

Action: Slowly take your bottom backwards, maintaining the natural curve in the spine. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times.

This bottom to heels exercise stretch and mobilise the spine

This bottom to heels exercise stretch and mobilise the spine

Tips:

  • Avoid sitting back on your heels if you have a knee problem
  • Ensure correct positioning with the help of a mirror
  • Only stretch as far as feels comfortable

Knee rolls  

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Keep your knees bent and together. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, keeping both shoulders on the floor. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times, alternating sides.

Knee rolls also work by stretching and mobilising the spine

Knee rolls also work by stretching and mobilising the spine

Tips:

  • Only move as far as feels comfortable
  • Place a pillow between your knees for comfort

Back extensions

Start position: Lie on your stomach, and prop yourself on your elbows, lengthening your spine. Keep your shoulders back and neck long.

Action: Keeping your neck long, arch your back up by pushing down on your hands. You should feel a gentle stretch in the stomach muscles as you arch backwards. Breathe and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Don't bend your neck backwards when carrying out this back extension move

Don’t bend your neck backwards when carrying out this back extension move

Tips:

  • Don’t bend your neck backwards
  • Keep your hips grounded 

Deep abdominal strengthening

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: As you breathe out, draw up the muscles of your pelvis and lower abdominals, as though you were doing up an imaginary zip along your stomach. Hold this gentle contraction while breathing from your abdomen for 5 to 10 breaths, and relax.

Repeat 5 times.

These exercises strengthen the deep supporting muscles around the spine

These exercises strengthen the deep supporting muscles around the spine

Tips:

  • This is a slow, gentle tightening of the lower abdominal region. Don’t pull these muscles in using more than 25% of your maximum strength
  • Make sure you don’t tense up through the neck, shoulders or legs

Pelvic tilts 

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Gently flatten your low back into the floor and contract your stomach muscles. Now tilt your pelvis towards your heels until you feel a gentle arch in your lower back, feeling your back muscles contracting and return to the starting position.

Repeat 10 to 15 times, tilting your pelvis back and forth in a slow rocking motion.

Pelvic tilts are recommended to stretch and strengthen the lower back

Pelvic tilts are recommended to stretch and strengthen the lower back

Tips:

  • Keep your deep abdominals working throughout
  • Don’t press down through the neck, shoulders or feet

Modification: Place one hand on your stomach and the other under your lower back to feel the correct muscles working.

Source: NHS Choices 



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