Total Therapy Blog
Saving Your Back… Mommy Smarts!
Welcome to the third part of our multi-part series Saving Your Back. Last week, we talked about Low Back Health for those with more Physical Jobs. This week, we will focus on Sparing your back as a Parent.
Being a parent to young children is a joyful and demanding experience. This next series, we’ll explore the physical aspects of parenting, and how new parents (both Mom and Dad!) can adjust so that you can provide care to your children while watching out for your own physical health. This week, we’ll cover low back health for parents.
Although we usually don’t think about it in this fashion, the physical demands of parenting often closely resemble those of lifting-based jobs. However, unlike a physical lifting job, the thing you’re interacting with moves, communicates, and occasionally needs a good cuddle. In short, you may be accustomed to taking the time to readjust your position when lifting or carrying a heavy or awkward box, but you may not think about that with your children. Try these tips to help reduce the load on your back when caring for your young children:
Use your knees AND hips
A time-honoured tradition among weight lifters, this tip also applies to new parents. When picking up your child, keep your spine in a neutral position, and hinge at your hips and knees to use your leg muscles to power the lift. In neutral, the spine can adequately distribute the forces being applied through multiple structures. When you take the spine out of neutral, certain areas (e.g. the vertebral discs and posterior stabilizing ligaments) get stressed more than others. In addition to this, if you’re stooped over you place the main muscles in your legs and back in a stretched-out position. What this means is that the muscles can’t contract effectively to protect your spine.
A real-life example is putting Baby to bed. If you use a crib with high sides, it can force you to collapse your back into a curved position to gently put Baby down. However, these cribs usually come with an option to lower the sides as needed. If you do have this option, drop the side of the crib down before you put your child in, so you can avoid the awkward reach over the side. Once Baby’s in bed, you can raise the sides again for safety.
Push the stroller with two hands
Sounds simple, but it can make a big difference. If you’re in the habit of using only one hand, you are exposing your back to unnecessary torque (twisting force). This is because the direction of the force exerted is off-centre, creating torque which much be stabilized by your body. If you consistently do this, you create imbalances in your body’s tissues because you’re always stressing them in an asymmetrical way. You also end up making your body work harder than it needs to – with torque, your body has to push AND prevent rotation. Use two hands whenever possible and position the stroller in line with your body. This way, you eliminate torque, and only have to produce the force to push. If you have to use one hand, position your arm as close to the centre of your body as possible to minimize the amount of torque.
Carry on both hips
If you consistently carry your child on one side only, you risk putting your spine out of alignment and developing repetitive strain injuries on the carrying side. This goes back to the idea that repetitively stressing your body in an asymmetrical way leads to muscle imbalances and ligaments that are more lax in one direction than another. If you carry your child on your hip, switch sides frequently. Even better – if you spend a lot of time carrying your child, invest in a good-quality baby carrier that positions him or her in the middle of your body. If you already have existing muscle imbalances, try a specialized core class or seek help from a personal trainer to address this issue and build up the weakened muscles so you don’t perpetuate the imbalance.
If you’re hurting, get help
This is a straight-forward point, but an important one. As a parent, it can be difficult to find time for yourself. However, if you’re dealing with discomfort on a regular basis, or you experience something outside of the ordinary (e.g. sharp pain, numbness, burning sensation etc.), you should seek help from your physiotherapist, chiropractor, or family doctor. Don’t leave a little problem to become a big problem!
So remember, although being a parent is full of joy, don’t forget to take some time to take care of you own health especially your back! The most important take home message is to lift your child with proper technique. Keep your back in neutral and lift with your knees and hips! Although this might sound awkward, treat your child like a heavy and awkwardly shaped box (that also moves around!) so properly brace your core while lifting your “box” to minimize injury to your back.
That concludes this week’s segment of Saving Your Back! Check back next week for more articles like this. See you guys next time!
So what challenges have you been through as a parent and what techniques have you developed to spare your back? Please tell us in the comment section below or on Facebook!
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