Washing dishes, dusting the furniture, picking up socks from the floor, doing laundry, raking the lawn—all of these routine household tasks can present special challenges for people with back pain. If you suffer from chronic back pain—or are prone to acute flare-ups—you may worsen your condition while going about your daily chores. Fortunately, by taking these steps to minimize the stress on your back, you can accomplish your household chores more effectively.
Balance activity with rest periods and avoid tackling two heavy chores in a row. After you’ve completed a job, take a break—for example, read a book or listen to music for a while before resuming chores.
While performing tasks that require prolonged standing—such as cooking, ironing or dishwashing—rest one foot on a footstool, book or the inside shelf of a cabinet, and occasionally alternate feet. If possible, your countertops, ironing board and sink should be waist-high. When vacuuming or raking leaves, use a fencer’s stance. Keep your back flat, put one foot forward and then lean forward from the hips with your knees slightly bent. Although this posture may feel awkward at first, it ensures that your leg muscles will bear most of your weight.
Wear low-heeled shoes with a large and flat heel. This is not only better for your feet but also creates a more stable “base” for standing and walking, preventing missteps that can lead to stumbles.
Invest in such helpful outdoor equipment as a long-handled garden weeder or bush pruner, a power lawn mower, a wheelbarrow and a snow blower.
Keep heavier food items such as juice cartons on the top shelves of the refrigerator to avoid having to lean over to reach them, as pictured. Keep frequently used kitchenware—like pots and pans—and heavy appliances at counter level. When possible, move items by sliding them across the counter instead of lifting. Lightweight objects can be kept on high shelves, but use a footstool or stepladder to retrieve them. Organize your closets in a similar manner.
When lifting, observe the age-old mantra of bending at the knees, not at the waist. Hold items close to your body as you lift, and if you have to turn, step in the direction of the turn rather than twisting your torso. Never try to lift or carry more than you can handle. For example, transfer wet clothes from the washer to the dryer a few at a time—wet clothes can be unexpectedly heavy—and dispose of your garbage in several small bags rather than one large heavy-duty trash bag.
Bending over, as pictured, can cause back pain. Instead, squat, kneel on one or both knees, or bend your knees and stoop slightly while performing such tasks as making the bed, reaching for an object under the sink or loading the dishwasher. Let your legs do the lifting, not your back.
Buy a cart with wheels and use it whenever you can to tote packages in from the car, carry laundry or take out the garbage, for example. When moving a load—even in a rolling cart—push it, rather than pull. Pushing makes better use of the muscles in your legs and stomach and is easier on your back.
Avoid throw rugs, highly polished floors and loose phone or extension cords, which increase the risk of falls. And make sure hallways, stairs and rooms are well lit.
Keep knives, saws and gardening tools sharp to minimize the force necessary to use them. Similarly, make sure all windows and drawers are well lubricated so that they will open smoothly.
Ask your family and friends for assistance with strenuous activities. Also, you might want to consider getting household help for a few hours each week or for major cleaning jobs once or twice a year.