Spring is just around the corner which often means cleaning the dust and grime from your home that has accumulated during the winter months.  Unfortunately, for many people, spring cleaning is a much more arduous task because of their lower back pain which can flare up while sweeping, moving furniture or enacting repairs.

The good news is that you can take measures to limit potential injury to your lower back and minimize pain symptoms. Back pain prevention just takes some simple precautions that could save you considerable time and discomfort in the long run.

A Closer Look at Lower Back Pain

Almost everyone will encounter back pain at some point in their lives.  In 2007, almost 27 million Americans experienced one kind of back pain or another, and this number only increases every year.  About 70 percent of these back pain sufferers sought medical care, costing the U.S. as a whole almost $30.3 billion.

Back pain is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, and it is one of the more expensive to treat. In 2005, the average cost to treat back or neck pain was about $6,090 for the year. Although insurance paid for the bulk of these costs, Americans paid almost $7 billion out of their own pockets in 2007.

Among the most common back pain conditions are

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Facet joint syndrome
  • Herniated disk
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis
  • Kyphosis
  • Spinal tumors

Back Pain Prevention Techniques

Before you attempt any physical activities that could injure your back—including house cleaning—you should consult with your doctor first. Your doctor has detailed information about your health condition and can deliver a personalized recommendation on how to protect your back.

In general, if you need to conduct spring cleaning on your own, you should adopt as many of the following best practices as possible:

  • Warm up—before you jump into backbreaking labor, you should take the time to limber up and warm up your muscles. This should start at the neck and progress down to your legs. Stretching and light reps of exercise enable your muscles and connective tissue to loosen and prepare for activity, lowering your risk of injury.
  • Use the right technique—do a little research into what the optimal technique is for any activity.  For example, moving heavy objects is best performed with assistance or, at least, with a cart.  Remember to bend at the knees instead of at the waist when lifting objects.  Avoid contorting or torqueing your back into unnatural or uncomfortable positions.
  • Take breaks frequently—whatever you are attempting, be mindful of your body.  If you feel pain in your back, take a break, and if it continues to hurt, stop for the day.  In general, you should plan for several days of work, rather than trying to complete all of your tasks in one go.  Of course, take breaks often to relieve strain on your back.
  • Maintain good balance—while you are performing tasks like vacuuming or mopping, be sure to remain upright with good posture to avoid undue stress on your lower back. Similarly, when you are reaching out for something, bring your center of gravity as close as possible to it first, so that you don’t unbalance yourself. 
  • Use proper equipment—there are many things you can use to minimize back strain, especially if you are doing housework. First of all, use proper shoes for the job; if you are in slippery conditions, use work boots with good tread and orthotics to cushion impacts.  If you are transporting objects, use a hand cart.  If you are doing a lot of bending over, consider using a grabber. 
  • Hire a partner—if you can find someone to assist you, that can greatly diminish your risk of back strain or injury.  Not only can they share the work load with you, but they can hold ladders and provide critical support during possibly dangerous tasks.
  • Strengthen up—if you are several days or weeks away from spring cleaning, you can start getting in shape now.  Start with a light workout at first, then gradually increase the load.  This should alleviate any initial shock of hard labor after months of limited activity.
  • Sleep well—prior to starting your chores, get a good night’s sleep. This should provide enough physical energy to complete your intended tasks, but it should also sharpen your mental acuity so that you make wise decisions about your safety.

Home Remedies for Back Pain

If you do push yourself too far and hurt your back, there are some things you can do.  Although the smartest thing you can do is see your doctor, you may also derive some benefits from these home remedies:

  • Ice and heat—immediately after an injury, you should ice the injured area to numb the pain and limit swelling. You should only ice an area for 20 minutes or less to avoid frostbite.  You may want to alternate with a heating pad which will loosen tense muscles and promote circulation.
  • OTC pain relievers—many over-the-counter medications like Motrin or Aleve help relieve pain as well as reduce swelling. You should only use OTC drugs as directed since there are potential side effects. Topical pain relief creams with capsaicin or menthol may also help with back pain symptoms.
  • Bed rest—this is an obvious remedy for back pain, but you should use bed rest with some caution.  Too much rest may atrophy muscles and connective tissue, making it more likely to re-injure your back in the future.  That is why most doctors recommend only 48 hours of bed rest or less.
  • Stretching—it may seem counter-intuitive to work out your back after an injury, but stretching has many benefits. Not only does light stretching help loosen tight muscles, but this gentle exercise may be enough to promote endorphin production. This should also allow more blood along with oxygen and nutrients to flow to injured areas, which should accelerate the healing process.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.