Monday, December 15, 2008

Taking care of babies... the healthy way and saving your back!

Well, seeing as I'm in the running for "health blogger" awards, I should probably write a post about being healthy!

As you know, my wife and I have two (now six week old) boys. They're amazing bundles of joy... but they do require quite a bit of "maintenance." Having twins is tougher than having a singleton... and it is more than just two times tougher. With one, when the baby is crying, you have to help remedy the problem. Once you do this, you have peace and quiet, and your baby is happy.

But with two kiddos, one can be crying... and you can remedy that issue all you want... but that has no bearing on that second wonderful bundle of joy...! What we have found is that as soon as we get George settled down... Patrick starts to fuss. Thus, no down time.

But alas, that wasn't even what I had planned on writing about!

In changing lots of diapers and clothes, I've noticed something... I'm doing a lot of bending over, and it really hurts my back! The changing table we have is average height... and the crib is average height... for a changing table and a crib. That's low by most normal standards. Usually if you're going to be handling heavy items, you do it in a way and a place that allows you to use your muscles to their full advantage. Not so here! I'm bent in half, completely isolating my upper body, putting lots of strain on my core and my leg muscles.

I've had to figure out a way to fix this problem!

For one... I've started to bend my knees before leaning over. That takes quite a bit of strain off of my back and hamstrings... but it puts strain on my knees. This is definitely better though.

The other this is that I've started stretching. A common misconception about back pain is that your back muscles are the muscles that are tight and need to be stretched. Now, while that might be true, more likely your hamstrings are tight. The muscles of the core do need to be strong... they help to transfer energy from your upper and lower body when doing strenuous activity, and they're great stabilizers... and they CAN be sore in and of themselves, but, like I said, they're linked to the upper and lower body.

And if most people are like me, stretching is not a normal part of their daily routine!

There are lots of ways to stretch your hamstrings. One of the best, though, is the doorway hamstring stretch:

Lie face up in a doorway.
Lift one leg up to rest against the wall or doorjamb.
Keep your body, shoulders, head, and other leg relaxed comfortably flat on the floor.
Keep both hips flat on the floor. Don't let your hips round under you.
Relax and breathe.

A few keys here... make sure that your other leg, your hips, shoulder, and back are flat on the floor. I know the first time I did it how inflexible I was... My "doorway" let was at about a 45 degree angle! It really goes to show, though, how much MORE flexible I could be. And as you do this and get more flexible, there will be less and less strain on your hamstrings and back, and when you are bending over baby (or doing whatever it is that has caused you back pain).


Jolie Bookspan, M.Ed, PhD, FAWM said...

Hello, I see you have used the photo and text from my health column The Fitness Fixer.

That post was of a success story of reader Ivy who is 72. Glad you liked it.

An interesting thing I hope will help is that hamstring stretching is not the fix (as commonly repeated) for the trouble you mention:

Bending wrong over the babies, legs straight and bent over from the waist or hips, is a common cause of back pain, as you found. Bending well with body upright and knees bent prevents the cause of the back pain and will not hurt knees.

Check your bending mechanics to see if you are transferring your weight to the knee joints instead of the thigh muscles. My post Free Exercise and Free Back and Knee Pain Prevention - Healthy Bending gives step by step ways to check this.

Hamstring stretching is misunderstood and does not fix pain back. Done in conventional ways of bending over (bad bending) from a sit or stand, it can even contribute to back pain. My post Sitting Badly Isn't Magically Healthy by Calling It a Hamstring Stretch tells more.

There are many myths in fad fitness. We fix them.

Good Things,
Dr. Jolie Bookspan,
Director, Neck and Back Pain Sports Medicine
and the International Academy of Functional Sports Medicine

Jen H. said...

Hey John,
Just catching up on your blog. That picture is hysterical- you've really gotten gray since I last saw you :)

PointSpecial said...

Yep... the babies are quite stressful!