Everyday life holds all sorts of hazards for your back. Some dangers are more obvious than others. Work related injuries, for example, are a common cause of back pain. But even in your apparently secure home you constantly perform countless simple and mundane tasks that can damage your back.
Bending, lifting and carrying correctly are an essential part of looking after your back. This means minimizing the strain on your spine by keeping your back as well aligned as possible. The bones and the discs of the spine can support your body weight and absorb stress very efficiently as long as the natural S-shape is maintained.
When you move away from the vertical and begin to bend, your center of gravity shifts forward. This increases pressure on the discs of the spine and means that your back muscles have to work hard to prevent you failing over. As a result, bending forward for any length of time in order to carry out household chores, duties at work or to grasp and lift heavy objects puts you at risk from pain.
Housework and Back Pain
Many of the routine tasks in and around the home are potentially stressful for your back. But with care and planning, you can adapt your environment to protect yourself. The list below gives some examples of common household chores and advice to help make them less likely to cause back injury.
In the Bathroom
Try to avoid bending over the washbasin for any length of time as this can be extremely stressful for the back. For men, shaving is an activity that can often cause low back pain. A mirror fixed to the wall behind the basin forces you to bend forward while you shave. In addition, many bathroom mirrors are placed at a comfortable height for the smaller of two partners, but this means that the taller one has to stoop as well as lean forward, so increasing the risk of back pain.
If you already have back problems, showering may be less stressful than taking a bath. You may feel fine soaking in a hot bath but getting out can be difficult. When washing your hair, kneel beside the bath instead of leaning over it. A freestanding, adjustable shaving mirror placed on a shelf at a convenient height allows you to stand upright while shaving, and may help you to avoid low back pain.
Housework and Your Back
Bath cleaning – bending forward over the bath puts stress on your back. Kneel beside the bath and use a long handled brush to reach the far side.
Bed making – kneel down or bend your knees keeping your back straight. Do not lean across to tuck in bedclothes; instead go around to the other side of the bed. Duvets and fitted sheets are easier to manage than blankets and flat sheets.
Dusting and polishing – Do not dust or polish above shoulder height. Use a stepladder to reach higher areas to avoid strain and pain in your upper back.
Ironing – When ironing, make sure that the board is high enough so that you do not have to stoop. If the board is too low even when fully extended, raise it on large, secure blocks of wood. Even with an ironing board at the correct height, little and often is a good rule for ironing so that you do not stand in the same position for too long at a time.
Kitchen cupboards – Keep the most used crockery, saucepans and utensils in cupboards that can easily be reached without bending or stretching. You need to store heavy objects, such as casserole dishes, at waist level so you do not have to lift them at awkward angles. To reach high cupboards use a stepladder.
Kitchen work surfaces – Ensure these are the right height to avoid bending. The ideal height is two to four inches below elbow height. If the surface is too low, raise the unit on blocks. If it is too high, stand on a box or try library type steps.
Sweeping – Use a long handled brush to avoid bending. Never bend over from the back when using a dustpan and brush. Squat or kneel, keeping your back straight
Vacuuming – Keep the handle close to you and stand up straight. Use your legs and body weight rather than just arms to move the machine around.
Washing the floor – use a long handled mop for routine floor washing. Kneel on all fours if you are going to scrub the floor with a brush
Washing machines – kneel down to load and unload a washing machine. Place a clothes basket on a chair next to the machine and unload into that. This means you will not have so far to lift the full basket, wet clothes can be surprisingly heavy. When hanging out washing, lower the line to a comfortable height to avoid stretching or stand on a box.
Washing the dishes – If the sink is too low and you find yourself bending, raise the height of the washing up bowl by placing it on a stand or on an upside down bowl.