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Preventing Back Injuries for Caregivers

If you are a caregiver, either professionally or for a loved one,  a healthy back should be high on your list of priorities.

After a low back injury, simply caring for yourself is difficult, let alone managing to take care of someone else.  Prioritizing your own back health is important for your own well-being, but without a healthy back you are much less useful to someone else!

When performing caregiving tasks, the following factors are key in preventing low back injuries:

Pacing

Caregivers must take breaks frequently throughout the day to both rest and to incorporate some physical activity like a brisk walk, an exercise class, resistance training, or a few minutes
of stretching.

Take your time with daily tasks. Be patient and allow the person you are helping to do as much of each task as they are capable of.  A perfect example is assisting someone to stand.  Take some extra time to encourage them to push with their legs and use their arms on armrests or bed rails, as much as they are able.  This has the double benefit of reducing strain on your back while encouraging muscle function and independence in the person you are caring for.

Another example is caregivers unnecessarily helping someone to put on their shoes and socks.  Often with some time and a small amount of help (or a sock aid) a person is able to put them on by themselves, but because it is much quicker for the caregiver to do it, they end up taking over the task, increasing the amount of bending and twisting their back must sustain.

Finally, a major culprit in back injuries in caregivers is not waiting for assistance with a transfer.  This may save 5 minutes but it’s time saved at the expense of your back.

Posture and Positioning

Avoid sustained bent postures as much as possible, and especially avoid bending combined with side bending or twisting. These positions are common when assisting with bathing or dressing.  Stand close to the person you are assisting, or have them move closer to you so you don’t have to bend and reach as far.

When assisting with transfers, again position yourself as close as possible and use a transfer belt to help steady the person you are helping.  Avoid positions where your back is rounded; instead keep your low back flat or slightly arched.

If you have an adjustable bed or other lifting aids, use them! Take the time to raise the height of the bed if possible, to decrease the amount you need to bend to provide assistance.  In my work in the community I see unused mechanical lifts all the time, because they take a few extra minutes to get into position.

Managing Falls

Often back injuries occur when assisting others and something unexpected happens like a fall or sudden movement. If something unexpected occurs, do your best to keep the person safe, but do not try to catch or hold another person’s entire body weight on your own. Instead try to lower them slowly to a seat or to the ground, protecting their head.

I hope these tips, in addition to the general suggestions from last week, will help you avoid injuring your back.  Upcoming blog posts will help you if and when you do experience low back pain, assisting you in identifying your back pain and giving you short and long term treatment suggestions.