My low back pain experience with weekend DIY!

I’m pretty handy and I love DIY projects at home! My wife and I basically remodeled our entire first house that we owned. Some would say we only work well together for a short amount of time because we both want to be in charge. We all know that she is always in charge…shhhhhhh don’t tell her I said that! After fixing our house just the way we wanted it we outgrew it and decided to move. Isn’t that how it always works? A little over 4 years ago we decided to build a house to our exact liking so that we would not have to do any remodeling. Well, 2 storage areas, a laundry room, a shed, and 2 bathrooms later we are still looking at projects that we want to do. Oh, I painted the entire house as well. As I look at the projects that I have completed it makes me feel good knowing that I am able to do these things. I have always said if I was not a Physical Therapist I would have probably followed in my grandfathers footsteps as a carpenter! But it seems that every time I do a project I suffer for a few days or weeks afterwards. Whether it is from carpal tunnel in my hand after running an impact drill for 2 days straight, or shoulder pain from painting all weekend. There always seems to be something that triggers a pain in my body. Even though I know how to properly do things, I can still slip up and get lazy.

My latest DIY project at home was to redo our hallway bathroom. My 6 year old daughter calls it her bathroom. We had never done anything with it and it still had the original paint…very boring. My wife and I watch a lot of HGTV and our show of choice is Fixer Upper. Of course my wife wants everything they do. The thing she wanted the most…SHIPLAP! For those that don’t know what ship lap is, it’s planks of wood hung horizontal on the wall. They come in all shapes and sizes as well as thickness. We decided to go with 1”x6” planks. She wanted it half way up the wall to be even with the countertop of the sink. We also decided on a new paint color as well as trim for the bottom and around the window. We bought most of the material 2 weeks ago and then I was off to bring out my inner Chip and Joanna!

It took me about a week to finish the project mostly because I started on a Sunday. As I started the project it was mostly painting which was not a problem. Hell, I’m like a pro now I don’t even have to use tape for trim work. Once I started to measure out different pieces of shiplap to cut I noticed as the day went on my low back started to bother me. I really didn’t think anything of it because I attributed it to what I was doing. I just wanted to get it done and didn’t even pay attention to it. These are all things I tell my patients to avoid and here I am not practicing what I always preach. It happens to the best of us. The next 2 days I was unable to work on the project because of my work schedule as well as my sons baseball practices. What I did notice was increased back pain throughout the day. The good thing is I’m a Physical Therapist and I was able to treat it at work as well as at home. By the end of the week I had a lot of relief and then I started working again. After about 30 minutes of constant bending to measure and cut wood I began to feel the pain again. This time I was smart and did what I tell my patients. I took a break, did a few different techniques and got back to work. I was more aware of what I was doing as well as bracing my core when bending and lifting things. I decided to make a small list of what you can do during those DIY projects. These techniques are great to prevent injuries so you don’t have to totally stop your project.

Brace your core:

This is probably the most important thing to do when you are bending over a lot as well as lifting things from any height. When I explain to people what to do it’s simple. Imagine you are going to get punched in the stomach and brace your abs. After this is established you want to engage your pelvic floor. With this imagine what it is like driving on the highway and you have to pee. You engage your pelvic floor by holding your pee. Do both of these at the same time when you are doing a lot of bending. And always do this when lifting something.

Lift with proper technique:

I use the acronym A SAFE LIFT

A: Always communicate

You want to always communicate especially if you are doing a lift with someone else. But even if you are lifting something small communication as to where you are putting it is key.

S: Stagger your feet

When approaching anything to lift off of the floor you want to stagger your feet to get a better stance and base of support.

A: Abdominal Squeeze

Just as above you want to brace your core before any and all lifts.

F: Flex your knees

Don’t bend with your back when getting down to the floor. Always flex your knees to get closer to the object you are trying to lift.

E: Easy movement

The movement lifting should be easy. If you are struggling to even lift it a few inches off of the ground it is too heavy.

L:Lock lumbar spine

Again this goes with bracing your core, but you also want to keep extension in your lumbar spine so that you are not predisposing yourself to injury.

I: Imagine the move

This is very important because it will make you visualize what the move will look like and prepare you for what you are going to do.

F: Face the load/hold close

Make sure you are always facing the load and you pull it close to your body when you lift it.

T: Toes follow nose

Make sure you are not twisting your body or torso. Your toes follow the way your nose goes.

Hamstring stretching: 

Stretching your hamstrings is a very important thing to do. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain so in turn we should all make sure that we loosen them before, during and after activity.

To stretch your hamstring you can do it multiple ways. First you can lay on your back and put a strap or long towel around the bottom of your foot across your arch. Keep your back flat on the floor and both legs straight. Pull your leg with the strap up in the air keeping it from bending until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold it for 20 seconds and do that 5 times.

Another way to stretch your hamstrings is to stand with your feet together and reach for your toes. Keep your knees straight and make sure you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the back of your legs. Again, hold this for 20” x 5.
Projects at home are great and they make you feel that you have accomplished something. However, if you are not careful you will wind up on the couch in pain. The above activities are suggestions to try and prevent as well as help with low back pain. The best way to treat it as well as prevent it is to see a Physical Therapist.  
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