Tips and Tricks for Parenting with Back Pain

Parenting isn’t easy, and it can be especially taxing when you have acute or chronic back pain. Try these strategies for less pain and more quality time with children of any age.

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Parenting is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also one of the toughest jobs out there. For people with a back or spine injury or who have chronic back pain, parenting can be even harder. So what can an orthopedically challenged parent do? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out. While no one will ever say that parenting of any kind is easy, there are steps and advice you can follow to make things easier on you, your kids and your back.

Woman with back pain caring for childParenting is frequently exhausting, especially if you have back pain.

“It’s common to see back strain associated with everyday childcare,” says Richard Yoon, MD, Director of Orthopedic Research at the Orthopedic Institute at Jersey City Medical Center in New Jersey. “I have also heard a number of patients, especially new moms, complain about recalcitrant hip pain, which can be improved with therapy.”

Infants and Toddlers

From birth until around 3 years of age, children require much more hands-on physical care. Even older toddlers sometimes want or need to be picked up and carried. No one wants to think of their baby or toddler as just another object to be lifted, but mechanically speaking, it is the same thing. Your musculoskeletal system doesn’t know the difference between a 30-pound toddler and a 30-pound bag of sand.

“It all comes down to proper lifting techniques,” says Dr. Yoon. “We all tend to bend at the waist, but we should get in the habit of squatting and lifting with our legs, especially as children get older. When they are little, they are light, but they get a little bigger and heavier each day.”

You can also look to carriers to make things easier. Ergonomically designed infant and child carriers not only take pressure off your back and spine, but they also leave your hands free to do other things. These carriers have adjustable straps, lumbar support, inserts for infants as small as seven pounds, and can be carried in different positions. For newborns and infants, wraps or sling carriers can also be helpful, especially ones with good shoulder support.

Father with back pain wearing babyA baby sling or carrier can save your back.

No matter what method you use, remember to keep your spine braced and straight. “Posture is very important,” reminds Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, professor of Anesthesiology and Vice Chair of Research for the Department of Anesthesiology at Rush Medical College in Chicago, IL, and the immediate past president of the American Association of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. “There are ways to lift your infants and children that can prevent back pain.”

Play and Leisure Time

Time to play, learn, and relax is vital for children of any age. It’s pretty important for adults as well, both to help them enjoy time away from work and also to enhance the bonding experience between parent and child.

When it comes to younger children, playtime often means doing things at their level, including being literally on the floor or ground. When you have a back or spine problem, that can be tricky and can even cause more damage.

“Abnormal movement and sudden accelerating lifting [or movements] can cause trauma [for parents and caretakers,” says Dr. Buvanendran.

When playing with babies and toddlers, there are things to keep in mind. “Focus on positioning,” explains Dr. Yoon. “If you are down on the floor with your child, be cognizant of how your body is positioned to avoid straining yourself. Position yourself close to the child, remembering that as babies and toddlers become more mobile and start standing up, we may be inclined to lunge after them to make sure they don’t fall.”

Mom with back pain playing with daughterPlaying with kids often involves getting on their level, which can be rough on your back.

It's also important to consider things you use with and for your baby, such as high chairs and strollers. Many strollers have adjustable handles. Set the handles so that you can push the stroller while still standing as straight as possible instead of hunching over.

When putting your child in and out of a stroller—or a high chair, or a car seat, on and off the changing table, in and out of the crib or playpen—remember to lift correctly. And speaking of high chairs, when you are feeding your baby in their high chair, try to keep your spine straight as you lean forward—it might feel strange at first, but it can help prevent pain and injury.

Teaching Older Kids

As children age, they become more aware of what’s around them and want to be more involved with activities. With encouragement, direction, and supervision, children as young as 4 or 5 years old can learn to help with some chores and household duties that can save parents from pain.

“Kids are a lot more capable than adults give them credit for and can do a lot more than we expect because they learn from observing us,” explains Nicole Osti, a therapist and registered behavior technician at N’Spired By Achievement in Princeton, NJ. “Including them in household activities as well as things like grocery shopping—let them help push the cart, pull things from shelves, greet the cashier and even hand over the money and accept the change and receipt—is helpful in them achieving appropriate autonomy and building their resilience.”

This way of teaching can be applied to virtually any household chore that is age-appropriate for your child. Also, repetition and praise are vital. “Consistency is key,” says Osti. “And make sure to follow up whatever the task is with positive reinforcement—‘I’m so proud of you! You are such a huge help! I love that you put those clothes in the hamper!’ Kids want to be helpful, sure, but they thrive on attention so give them a TON of positive attention for all the things they’re doing right.”

Child helping dad with back painTeaching kids to help with chores can reduce your physical AND mental load.

Having back or spine problems and caring for children may not be easy, but it is doable and very worthwhile. But don’t try to be Superparent. “The best advice I can give is don’t be afraid to ask for help,” reminds Dr. Yoon. “If you have a setback, it can end up making your recovery from treatment or surgery take longer.”

And remember all the health basics too. Eat right, don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise. Your back—and your family—will love you for it.  

Updated on: 06/10/21
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Back Pain in Children: How it Happens and How to Help
Richard Yoon, MD
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Back Pain in Children: How it Happens and How to Help

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