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Spring Cleaning?  Protect Your Back!

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The beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures of spring often motivate us to open the windows, let the fresh air in, and give our homes a thorough cleaning.  Be careful though, household chores can sometimes literally be a pain in your back. Even common cleaning activities, such as loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing dishes, scrubbing the bathroom, and vacuuming the floors, can cause back strain resulting in anything from mild discomfort to debilitating pain.

Fortunately, you can lessen your risk of injury by making sure you are using proper form while cleaning.  It also helps to take plenty of breaks and to do a little each day instead of one marathon session.

One of the most important things you can do to protect your back is to always make sure you use good body mechanics while lifting heavy objects, such as a bucket full of soapy water or a heavy vacuum cleaner.  Make sure to always bend at your knees rather than your waist, and always keep the item you're lifting as close to your body as possible to reduce back strain.  Also, make sure you are facing the object you are picking up (rather than twisting while you lift) and if you need to place it to the side of you, turn your whole body to face that direction before bending your knees and setting it down.

Here are some additional tips to help protect your back:

  • Whenever you need to stand for an extended period of time, see if you can find a way to lift one of your feet a little higher than the other one, and then periodically alternate.  For example, if you are washing dishes, you can open the cabinet below and rest your foot on the ledge to reduce back strain.  (Cashiers, and other people who stand all day, often find this little trick invaluable.)
  • When vacuuming, transfer your weight back and forth between your front and back feet, using your body weight to propel the vacuum as you lunge.  Also, periodically switching from one hand to the other helps to keep your muscles working in a more balanced manner, reducing back strain.
  • If you can, switch hands while scrubbing your bathroom or performing other similar tasks, and pay attention to your body mechanics, making sure to minimize any twisting.
  • Don't overdo it.  As mentioned earlier, spread out your chores throughout the week, doing a little at a time.  Similarly, if you have a lot of dishes to do and notice that it tends to aggravate your back... only do half and let them dry in the dish rack while the others soak in hot soapy water, finishing them later.
  • If you notice your back is feeling tight, take a break, lie down on your back, and hug your knees to your chest until your back muscles relax.  This may be a good time for some additional stretching.  Your chiropractor can show you some easy stretches that can help reduce muscle spasm and tension.
  • If your back is hurting, use an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel.  If you don't have a frozen cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables can make a good substitute.
  • If the pain continues for more than a day or two or if you experience numbness, tingling or any weakness in your extremities, see your chiropractor.  Your Millar doctor of chiropractic is an expert in spinal health and can help identify and treat your problem.

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