Thursday, January 22, 2015

New Parent? New Achy Neck or Back?

By Dr. Greg Lusk, DC
Having recently welcomed a daughter to the family, I've been reminded of the many feelings that come along with the new addition -  excitement, anticipation, and sleep deprivation to name a few.  However, as I march, skip, and squat around the living room with my daughter in my arms I'm keenly aware of an ache in my back.  It is incredibly common to feel back soreness when interacting with our children and not entirely preventable.  When you consider that you go from dealing with your own postural imperfections to then holding the growing weight of a child it is no surprise that soreness is felt.  Factor in the repetitive nature of carrying and feeding, the awkwardness of transporting a car seat, and bending over to pick up the child, and the risk for discomfort increases.  That being said, there are things you can do to "compete" so you feel your best.
Carry on BOTH sides
We all favour a side to carry a child on since we are hand dominant.  For example, a right-handed mother often carries on the left to leave her right, more coordinated hand free for use.  This is a must at times but whenever finer tasks are not being done carrying on the other side is a great idea.  This keeps the forces on the spine and muscles more balanced which is important in preventing back pain.
Keep Things Neutral
With respect to the neck, avoid “craning” the neck for a prolonged period of time to look at your child, especially while feeding.  Supporting your arms with a pillow will help with this.
Picking up children, reaching into cribs, and prolonged holding of children takes a toll on your low back.  Hinge at your hips, bend your knees, and keep your back straight.  Also, when standing and holding your child for a length of time, avoid over-extending your low back in an attempt to better balance the load of the child, as this can compress and eventually irritate the joints of your back.  Combining “neutral” spine positioning with bracing (described below) will make you injury resistant.
Bracing is the act of maintaining a mild abdominal contraction in order to support your low back.  With your spine straight (i.e. neutral) contract your abdominal muscles slightly, making your stomach firm.  You should be able to breathe evenly while bracing so if you can’t talk or breathe you are doing it too intensely.  Performing a “brace” with a straight back while holding or prior to picking up your child will go a long way.
Don’t Combine Movements
Lifting and twisting at the same time is a common cause of low back injury.  Now picture yourself putting your child in a car seat.  Try to separate the lift and twist by stepping up into the vehicle….and don’t forget to brace!  Move your feet to turn your body instead of asking your back to rotate.
Take Breaks
While your child is napping or playing independently, make it a priority to do 5 to 10 minutes of stretching/exercises to offset some of the muscle tension that has set in.  Stretching your chest and neck, as well as strengthening your core muscles, can help you avoid aches and pains and give you an energy boost.
This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional medical advice.  If you experience neck or back pain that lasts more than two to three days, contact a licensed health professional for an evaluation.  For more information visit