Ten tips for carers to maintain a healthy back

BackCare 'Caring for Carers' week starts October 3
BackCare 'Caring for Carers' week starts October 3
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The UK is home to seven million unpaid carers, writes Lynne Midwinter. They provide care and support to an ailing or disabled family member, friend or neighbour on an ongoing basis.

Carers represent an unpaid and often invisible workforce that saves the Government a staggering £119 billion every year – more than the Government’s entire annual NHS expenditure.

Carers are often exposed to higher than usual levels of physical and emotional stress which puts their own health at risk. Many carers help the person they care for with physical tasks, such as getting in and out of the bed, bath or chairs. In addition to this, the role of carer, especially when caring for a spouse or close family member, can create unique emotional stresses.

Over 70 per cent the UK’s unpaid carers now suffer from back pain, and are at greater risk of developing chronic pain, which is highly disabling in a third of cases and life-long for the majority.

The national back pain charity BackCare has chosen ‘Caring for Carers’ as this year’s BackCare Awareness Week theme (October 3-8) so it seems an ideal opportunity to share some back care advice with you all.

When you’re caring for someone, you may find that some of the activities this involves may be taking a toll on your back. If you regularly lift the person you care for, or help with a wheelchair for example, you may be putting your back at risk. There are several things you can do to help protect your back and keep your muscles strong.

So here are 10 top tips for a healthy back:

1. Exercise your back regularly – walking, swimming (especially back stroke) and using exercise bikes are all excellent to strengthen your back muscles but anything that you enjoy and helps you keep active will be beneficial. Pilates is an ideal form of exercise for all ages and strengthens your core muscles that support your spine.

2. Keep active and moving even when you have pain. Gentle walking and stretching will prevent stiffness. Also try to avoid long periods of bed rest or sitting as this tends to stiffen you which can lead to more pain.

3. When lifting, make sure that you bend your knees and hips keeping the weight of the person close to your body and never twist and bend at the same time. Use hoists wherever they are available and if the person you are caring for gets less able ask for a reassessment of what aids and adaptations they need to keep you safe.

4. Try to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle as this will help prevent back pain. Quit smoking as it increases your chances of developing back pain as it cuts down your circulation.

5. Use painkillers when pain occurs to allow you to carry on being active. If pain is persistent see your GP as they may be able to prescribe stronger painkillers, refer you for physiotherapy treatment or investigate further. Remember that physios are back care experts and can give you a wealth of advice, exercises and hands on treatment to ease your pain.

6. Get a copy of ‘The Carers Guide to safer moving and handling of people’ which is published by BackCare. It is designed for unpaid/family carers, and is based on HOP6 – the leading national training text, as used to train UK nurses and paramedics.

7. Try to carry loads in a rucksack and avoid carrying a bag on one shoulder.

8. Always try to maintain good posture. Avoid slumping in your chair, stooping over a bed or walking around with your shoulders hunched up. Wherever possible kneel or squat down to do jobs, rather than bend.

9. Always use a chair with a back rest and sit with your feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest. Don’t forget to change your sitting position regularly.

10. Hot and cold packs may help ease and soothe your back pain. You can buy hot and cold packs that are specifically designed to relieve pain from most pharmacies. A hot water bottle and some frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel will be just as effective. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can damage it.

At Physio & Therapies our Chartered Physios are all experts in back problems. Throughout October we are offering half price back assessment appointments. Call our team on 01706 819464 to book an appointment.