By John Jericiau
At the moment, I’m sporting a deep dull ache in my low back. It came to me one morning, quite out of the blue. I don’t recall any incident or event that would bring this pain on, except last week I did act as ball boy during my sons’ tennis lesson. I pay good money for the session and I didn’t want time wasted while they themselves retrieved balls in the middle of their session, so I darted around the court catching a ball here and reaching down for a ball there, just like you see the boys 40 years my junior do during Wimbledon.
This pain hasn’t reared its ugly head since my last smart move years ago while washing the white picket fence in the front of our house. Both boys were around two years old and had just started their midday three-hour nap, allowing me to pick a project each day and attempt to complete it in the allotted time. To save time on this particular day, I got into a good rhythm of plunging my sponge into a large bucket of soapy water, scrubbing a slat with said soapy sponge, and then lifting and moving the bucket to the next slat, where I would repeat the cycle of plunging, scrubbing, and moving. It was an efficient way to get the job done – unfortunately, I chose to perform this job while remaining in the bent-over position for close to the three-hour mark. Upon hearing one of the boys cry out from inside the house, thereby marking the end of my allotted time, I tried but was unable to get erect (my body), or retrieve from the crib two important individuals (my sons.)
The pain eventually subsided – I think it was a week later – and now this current pain feels like a less intense reminder of that crippling incident. Luckily, I am a physical therapist, so I at least know what to do to soothe the pain (in general use ice, anti-inflammatories, and a good massage, but bag the useless Ben Gay, the TENS unit, and too much time on the heating pad.) I can help you to reduce your pain level, but as a knowledgeable PT I pride myself in being able to give information to help prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Some of this info is definitely applicable to us parents.
For one, think before you act. Don’t try to wash a fence in the bent-over position for three hours. Duh. Don’t just hop out of bed in the morning and start your Yoga routine, just because you’re worried that little Dustin will wake up at the sound of your first om. Get warmed up first. Walk around a little.
Don’t hold your baby over one hip while cooking, walking, or talking on the phone. That baby has grown right before your eyes into a 25-pound sack of potatoes. I doubt you would hold a 25-poung sack of potatoes for any period of time like this. You’d get on the floor or sit in a good chair and put said sack right in the middle of your lap, where your spine will remain protected and balanced.
Speaking of good chairs, your comfy cozy sofa is not one of them. Good low back support is crucial to maintaining the normal arch in the lumbar spine, and most sofas are notorious for forcing you to sit in a slumped position. Be sure to grab at least a couple of throw pillows and place them behind your back before you sit, so you can maintain what we call “lumbar lordosis” while feeding your baby and catching up on shows from your DVR.
When lifting or transporting your baby or toddler, be sure to remember these few tidbits: Keep breathing while lifting, so as not to increase the pressure between your vertebrae. Get your child as close to your body as possible before doing any lifting. It’s pure physics that having the weight as close to your center of gravity as possible reduces the strain on your back muscles and ligaments. This is exactly why you’ll see a fireman carrying a victim out of a burning fire slung over his shoulders instead of in his arms. And always ask your child to hang on to your neck/shoulders during the lift. Splitting the work with them makes everyone happy and healthy.
Easier said than done, but try to get some good sleep each night. A tired body means a tired back, and a tired back is more easily injured. Eat nutritious foods; what you put in your mouth directly affects your body’s ability to perform. Try to keep your stress level to a minimum. Stressed muscles lose a large amount of their normal flexibility, which means that simply reaching down to the floor for a fallen diaper can be met with disastrous results. Herniated discs have been known to occur simply by reaching for a pencil.
Any exercise routine would be beneficial to keeping your body in good condition, but if you only had time to focus on one body part I’d suggest your six-pack. It’s there (somewhere), and by performing a few crunches here and a couple of sit-ups there, you are keeping strong the natural “girdle” of your trunk. Act like you have strong abs at all times, keeping them squeezed in the “set” position during all activities. Do not protrude your stomach out and allow it to act as a shelf for your child to sit on while you carry him.
Our bodies don’t come with an owner’s manual. It’s up to us to use the knowledge we gain in order to break some of our life-long habits. And don’t be afraid to share this knowledge with your own children. Forming good postural habits at an early age (e.g. lift with your legs, not your back) will lead to a lifetime of good health.