Looking after someone who is ill or disabled may involve helping them with physical tasks, such as shopping and cooking. But it can also entail getting them in and out of bed or the bath or helping them get up after a fall. If you are regularly having to lift the person you care for, you may find that this puts extra strain on your back.
Carers are more likely than the rest of us to be affected by back pain. According to the charity Carers UK, around half of all carers have backache. However, knowing how to protect your back can help to keep it in good shape.
It is important to look after your back on a day-to-day basis and to ensure that you get adequate breaks and days off from caring.
Training and practical help
Help and advice is available locally. Click here to find out more.
Improve your posture
Just being aware of how you are sitting and standing can help to improve your posture. You should stand upright with your head facing forward and your back straight. Try to keep your shoulders above your pelvis, rather than in front or behind it. When sitting, make sure you are upright, with your feet flat on the floor or on a footstool.
If you already have back problems it doesn’t have to stop you being active. In fact activity usually helps improve back pain. Exercise which focuses on flexibility, such as yoga or tai-chi can be beneficial. Swimming, pilates, walking, running and cycling can all help to strengthen your back. If you aren’t able to do a regular sport, try walking or cycling instead of using the car for short journeys, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. If it’s been a long time since you’ve exercised, discuss it with your GP first, especially if you have any health problems.
If you are suffering from acute back pain your first line of attack would be to use a cold pack or a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. Hold the ice pack against the painful part of your back for 10-15 minutes. Try to keep active, as moving around helps to reduce inflammation and prevent stiffness developing.
If treated in the early (acute) stages, ie less than six weeks, back pain usually resolves fairly quickly. However if it persists for more than 12 weeks and becomes chronic, back pain may cause long-term problems. It is important to inform your GP of any back pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist, but if you don’t want to wait for a physiotherapy referral you might want to try osteopathy. The osteopath will offer both hands-on treatment and advice about good back care and suitable exercise.
Sorrel Pindar, Registered Osteopath