Men's Health

What To Do When Lower Back Pain Slows You Down

A busy dad’s guide to easing the ache.

Originally Published: 

Lower back pain afflicts approximately 80 percent of the population at some point in their lives, and is responsible for $50 billion in healthcare costs every year. The semi-good news is that lower back pain is usually not a sign of a serious medical problem, such as arthritis — more often, it’s an artifact of lifting your kid one too many times.

It’s a fact that parenting introduces your body, especially your spine, to a world of activities and subsequent aches you weren’t fully prepared for. Come to think of it, you probably started experiencing lower back pain right around the time your kid arrived — not the 6 pounds, 5 ounces version, of course, but the 15, then 20, now 30+ pound version of him who likes to swing from your neck and climb on your shoulders. And between hauling the “portable” crib, rocking horse, and jogging stroller around, the kid’s weight barely registers. Fortunately, there are ways that you can prevent lower back pain, with a little planning and a lot of diligence. Start with these tips:

Watch Your Weight

Definitely not easy, given the temptation of nibbling the leftovers on your kids’ plates. But one of the major causes of lower back pain comes from putting on a gut that destabilizes your center of gravity. Think about it: more weight out front means that your spine has to compensate with a funky arch just to keep you from toppling over. Walking around in that hyper-extended position day after day takes a toll on your lower back ligaments.

Get Support. Back Support

Cuddle time with the kids in one of fatherhood’s greatest joys — and one of your back’s biggest nightmares. Propping yourself up with pillows while you read Goodnight Moon for the 1,000th time isn’t enough support for your already overworked back. Consider investing in a moderately firm mattress to minimize excessive spine curvature. At night, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs (weird, but true) as this takes pressure off the spine and positions you in an ergonomically sound position.

Learn to Lift Safely

Bending your knees is a good start, but the other piece to this puzzle is that, when you take hold of your child’s toy bin, keep it close to your torso rather than extended in front of you as you raise it. The closer a heavy object is to your body, the more its weight is evenly absorbed by your muscles and ligaments. This protects your lower back.

Quit Smoking

If not for your family’s health (not to mention your own) here’s one more reason to kick that nasty habit. Smoking impairs your blood flow, which restricts the oxygen and nutrient supply to the tissues in your lower back. This makes them vulnerable to tears and strains. Add in a little stress — like a kid on your shoulders — and feel the ache.

Go Cold, Then Go Hot

Preventing lower back pain is a fine goal but, once you’ve tweaked your back, what do you do? Treat it like you would a muscle strain at the gym, using a combo of ice and heat. Place a bag of ice on the affected area for 10 minutes at a time, several times a day, for the first 24-48 hours. This helps reduce inflammation. Follow that with a heat pad on the area for the next two to three days to keep your back from tightening up as your muscles heal.

Build a Stronger Back

In the long term, avoiding lower back pain requires building a stronger core, which includes both your abdominal and back muscles. There are multitudes of moves that can help you achieve this, but these three give you the best results in minimal time — about 10 minutes for the whole routine:

Bridges: Lie on your back, knees bent, hands at your sides. Tighten your butt muscles and push up through your heels, raising your hips. Keep your back flat, creating a straight line from hips to shoulders. Count to 20. Relax. Repeat 5 times.

Ab Contractors: Lie on your back, knees bent, hands by your sides. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, try contracting your stomach muscles and pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Hold for 5 counts. Relax. Repeat 5 times.

Superman: Lie on your stomach and extend legs behind you and arms out in front. In unison, lift legs and arms off the floor about 6 inches, feeling your ab and back muscles contract to hold you steady. Hold for 5 counts. Relax. Repeat 5 times.

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