Caregivers and back injuries are no strangers. The pulling and tugging used to move a disabled loved one will take its toll. Statistically, a back injury can cost $10,000.00 before surgery or rehabilitation, and one-third of all employed persons will have a back-related injury in their lifetimes…and caregivers are no exception.

Here is a quick review of the structures of the back and their purposes: The spinal column provides support and flexibility for the head and trunk and protection for the spinal cord. It is made up of five different types of bony structures called vertebrae. Between each vertebra are cushions called discs that consist of a tough outer shell and a soft, jelly-like center. A “slipped disc” means the disc is being squeezed and impinging on the spinal cord or an exiting nerve. The spinal cord is about 18 inches long, ¼ inch thick, and has 31 pairs of nerves that exit from it. There are 400 muscles that stabilize the spine, maintain posture, and provide for ease in movement. 1000 tendons connect the muscles to bone. Ligaments, which connect bone to bone, keep the spine aligned to prevent injury with movement. Any one of these structures can suffer an injury, but muscle strain is the most common cause of back pain.

So how can you prevent back strain or injury when caring for your loved one? Start by maintaining good posture and using good body mechanics. Good posture prevents too much stress on any one area of the back and good body mechanics means using and moving your body parts in balance. Standing erect with your ears, shoulders, and hips in a straight line is the ideal posture. Good body mechanics consist of these basic principles: See your feet as the base and keep your center of gravity above them. Spread them apart to the width of your shoulders and balance your weight over this base. When lifting an object off the floor bend at the knees, keep your back straight, and hold the object close to your body. If pushing something heavy, keep your body straight, put one foot forward, and push your weight into the object. To move your loved one in bed use the same principle but put one foot back and gently pull her towards you shifting your weight back. Always use your abdominal muscles for strength, they act as an internal girdle. When assisting your loved one to stand, face her and establish a good base, bend at the knees, reach under her arms and place your hands on her upper back. Have her put her hands on your shoulders, not around your neck. Now gently rock back and forth and using the momentum lift on the count of three. Always use smooth rhythmic movements instead of jerking ones. If your loved one is bathed in bed, be sure she is close to the side you are standing to avoid over reaching. A hospital bed is ideal because its height can be adjusted to meet your needs.

Use common sense and never attempt to move someone heavy alone. If your loved one falls and can’t get up, call the paramedics. They will come, help her up and assess for injuries.

It takes work to maintain a healthy back. Exercises such as gentle stretching, walking, abdominal muscle strengthening and even weight training are beneficial. A pain free healthy back is a blessing. If you ever suffered from a bad back you know what I mean.

Mary C. Fridley