Savvy Smarts: Spring Cleaning Doesn’t Have to be a Pain
Spring clean-up can lead to sore necks and backs; but those can be avoided or lessened.
Sparkling windows, trimmed clean landscape – flowers-a-bloom, carpets steamed and colorful laundry piles folded neatly and ready to be placed in their designated drawers. How do we get to such a beautiful sight? Spring cleaning, of course. What’s not so beautiful – the bending, lifting, moving, reaching, stretching, aching back, sore muscles and exhausting weekends filled with hedging, trimming, mowing, vacuuming, wiping, scrubbing…
Those who cherish the sight of spring cleanliness have most likely also experienced their back going out, being unable to walk, stand up straight or even lie-down without sharp-stinging pain. There is a more manageable way to finish all of the tasks on the long list of spring cleaning without experiencing pain. Experts tell us how to banish back pain for good!
Thanh T. Le, M.D., Pain Management Physician, and Bethany Zich, ATC/LAT, Athletic Trainer Certified, team-up to share thoughts on how to decrease pain this spring season and feel great at the same time! “Knowing how to pace yourself is really important,” says Dr. Le. “If you don’t take breaks and become exhausted, you are more likely to injure yourself.” Most cleaning accidents happen from stepstool or ladder misuse – tripping, slipping and falling over wet floors or tools that are in the way. “Be aware of your surroundings,” said Dr. Le.
WAYS TO PREVENT INJURY
Bending safely – “Never bend at the waist, always use your legs,” said Zich, “Use good body mechanics by engaging your abdominal muscles to support your back.” Zich also says to avoid bending and twisting to lift items because this can increase the amount of pressure on the spine. “Turn your whole body, not just your back,” she said.
“When lifting, hold objects close to your body;” says Zich, “objects at a far distance from the body can increase the pressure to the spine. The farther the object is, the heavier it is and the more work you have to do to lift it – which can lead to an injury.” According to Zich, taking away pressure from your spine will make the project easier and safer for your body.
When standing for a long period of time, “elevate your work surface for a better posture and keep it at a comfortable height; change positions frequently. Stand on a cushioned mat. If you are standing at a sink for a prolonged time, place your foot on a ledge below in order to decrease the pressure building on your spine,” said Zich. In other words, Zich explains that if you are doing loads of laundry, try folding them at the washer machine or a counter top because it is leveled at your height more than leaning or bending-over while folding laundry on your bed, which is a lower surface. And when you are washing dishes, open the cabinet door and use that ledge as a resting spot making it easier for your back.
“If you are vacuuming, hold the vacuum beside your body. Your legs should do all the work so there is no bending or twisting of the back,” said Zich. “Try to avoid reaching forward with your arms or leaning your whole body, rather walk with the vacuum.”
TIPS EVERYONE CAN DO ON THEIR OWN
As anxious as you may be to get those gutters clean or touch-up that outdoor paint that has been chipping away all winter – it’s essential to understand the importance of warming-up. “Warming the muscles can really avoid pain down the line. You could try walking a couple blocks first or do regular stretches for your legs, arms, shoulders and back,” said Dr. Le. Another simple tip, according to Dr. Le would be to grab that ladder or stepstool when trying to reach high places. “As long as you are aware of your surroundings and are careful to prevent tripping and falling – a stepstool or ladder is much safer than climbing on top of a table or using another piece of furniture to reach high-places,” he said.
Speaking of ladders or stools – the doctor emphasizes the assurance of a leveled ground. “Make sure the floor under that ladder is even, dry and durable,” says Dr. Le. Unstable ground can cause the ladder to fall over. Also, avoid pulling muscles by overreaching. Dr. Le uses the “rule of navel,” which means, if your belly button goes outside the lines of the ladder – you are reaching too far.
“Hydration is key to health and energy;” says Dr. Le, “make sure you are drinking enough water to prevent dehydration.”
Dr. Le and Bethany Zich, ATC, recommend the use of back braces for added support to the spine and knee pads for those tough ground-level jobs when cleaning or gardening. Standing tall with both feet planted firmly on the ground when doing any project can ensure safety, “relax your shoulders away from your ears to keep your back healthy,” said Dr. Le, “and of course, try to exercise regularly.”
EXERCISES TO KEEP THE BACK ‘FIT’ ALL YEAR
Here are some simple exercises that Bethany Zich, ATC, shares for a fit back year-around – made easy for everyone. “These are exercises that can be done right away and can even provide some relief from pain,” she said.
- Single knee-to-chest –With hand behind knee, pull one knee into chest until a comfortable stretch is felt in the lower back and buttocks. Repeat with opposite knee.
- Lower trunk rotation – Keeping back flat and feet together, rotate knees to one side.
- Pelvic tilt – Tilt pelvis backwards and flatten back into the ground.
- Abdominal bracing – Breathe in and as you breathe out try to draw belly in toward spine.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
“Radiating pain down the legs or sharp/burning pain is a main sign to see a doctor,” said Zich. Dr. Le shares some common injury signs to be aware of – when to tough-it-out and when to make an appointment with the doc.
- Knee injury – immediate pain that worsens when you try to walk or bend your knee; a popping sound or inability to bear weigh on the knee; or a feeling that the knee may buckle
- Back injury – numbness or tingling and lack of improvement after rest; if you have pain when urinating, you experience weakness or numbness in your legs, or if you develop a fever or have unintentional weight loss
- Pulled muscles – trouble breathing or dizziness, extreme muscle weakness, high fever or stiff neck; if you experience sudden, sever muscle pain that doesn’t go away or recurs every time you exercise; if the pain persists beyond a week or if you start to develop signs of infection (redness, swelling, sore muscle), lastly, if you are experiencing poor circulation and pain in your legs
- Shoulder injury – if you felt your shoulder pop out of place or back in, you may have dislocated it; if there is tenderness or pain near the shoulder-end of your collarbone, it may be separated; you experience pain with twisting motions (or throwing motion) – you may have torn a rotator cuff
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