Do-it-Yourself projects may be preventing you from breaking the bank, but if you’re not careful, doing your own work could “break” your back. As an upside to the economic downturn over the past year, we’ve become a nation of do-it-yourselfers. More people are getting their hands dirty and doing work themselves; many homeowners are diving into doing their own yard work, minor repairs and even taking on large projects. But doing DIY projects yourself requires a bit of caution to prevent injuries, particularly those related to the back. This is especially important for those folks not used to doing heavy work on a routine basis…us weekend warriors!

Here are a few of the most common things you need to do to protect your back and save those dollars for the hardware store:

Assess the weight. Be cautious and use proper technique when lifting anything by checking the weight of the object first. While some building materials, such as cement, are sold by weight, other products such as lumber and landscaping rocks are not, and so you need to carefully test the weight before committing yourself to lifting it. You’ll also need to test the weight of other objects such as heavy tree branches, large paint containers, and anything you’re tearing out or installing. Ask your friends and neighbors for help, and let them know you will be there for them, as well.

Lift properly. Never bend from the waist while lifting. Instead, lower your body by bending your knees, keeping your back straight. Squat in front of the object you will be lifting, then stand up by unbending your knees, holding the object close to your body. Maintain a steady, slow lifting motion. Never jerk to get a ‘head start’ on something really heavy and do not twist your body.

  • If you’re lifting a shipping box, such as that new patio set, make sure the contents are secure. If the weight inside will shift and become unbalanced, you need a helper.
  • If you need to lift something over your head, such as a ceiling fan, use a ladder. Get as close to the object as possible, and slide it towards you if you can. Don’t reach out for the load to lift or hold it up – keep your back straight.
  • Don’t depend on a back belt and think you can break the rules by wearing one.

Shovel with care. A load of dirt in your shovel can be heavier than you think, and a lot of repetition from planting a dozen shrubs in the yard can end with a restless sleep due to back pain. To shovel properly, keep your torso straight with your pelvis tilted up. Tighten your abdomen, bend your knees, and lift a small amount at a time.

Don’t pull or yank on stuck object. Back injuries are often caused by yanking or pulling objects to free them, such as tree roots, dead shrubs and fence posts. The best preventive measure is patience – dig a little more to free the object instead of trying to force it. Consider using a winch set-up to extract deeply seated objects, such as fence posts.

Identify and avoid what can make you trip or fall. Take care to wear clothes that are comfortable and not restrictive, but won’t catch onto something and make you lose your balance. Double-knot your shoes so you don’t trip while carrying a load. Avoid or be careful on wet or uneven surfaces, such as a steep hill or rooftop. Keep the workplace clean and orderly. Make sure ladders and scaffolding are on firm ground and steady, perhaps held by a helper. If you’re not sure about it, don’t do it! Professionals don’t take chances, and neither should you.

If you drop something really heavy, let it fall. Hopefully, you got yourself a helper and don’t need this advice. But if you do drop something heavy, the sudden motion of catching the object could cause serious damage to your spine. Let it go and deal with the consequences, rather than risk a serious back injury.

Try not to work for long periods of time in a stooped or awkward position. Take some time before the project to arrange your workspace so you can sit or stand comfortably while doing your project. When gardening, sit on a mat or short stool rather than stay on your knees bending forward for long periods of time…your lower back doesn’t like that!

Get in shape before you take on projects and pace yourself when you work. Exercise regularly and get your body into shape before taking on heavy DIY physical activity, such as putting in a landscape or building a deck. Like an athlete before a game, stretch your legs and your back before you begin work.
Remember, regardless of the size of the project, work safely.

For more information about back pain and prevention, visit www.texasback.com. Find a location near you!

If you’d like additional tips or insights from Dr. Jack Zigler, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Summer travel is officially here and whether you’re road tripping it or taking to the skies this season, you don’t want back pain to go along for the ride. Dr. Richard Guyer of the Texas Back Institute has provided a few traveling tips you can take with you on your trip:

Pack light. Pack only what you need to limit the weight you need to pull around.
Handling luggage. Whether it is the beginning of your trip or you’re on your way home, you don’t want to injure yourself when handling your luggage. Use rolling luggage and remember to move slowly when lifting your luggage. Also, try and break down the action of lifting your luggage into smaller steps. When you load a suitcase into a trunk, slowly lift it onto a stool and then lift it the rest of the way into the trunk. Use a valet, if possible.

Avoid the same position. Try and avoid being in the same position for extended periods of time. This may cause stiffness and more pain. If driving, you should try to stop for a break about every hour for at least five minutes long. Try and walk around and stretch out those muscles. You want to keep the blood moving. If on a plane be mindful of in-flight rules, but take a quick trip down the isle if you can to stretch your legs.

Maintain correct posture. While driving, pull the seat as close to the steering wheel as is comfortable. Your back should rest against the seat. If your vehicle has a lumbar support, adjust it properly to ‘fill in the gap’ between your back and the seat.

Bring a lumbar support. Seats on planes, trains, and cars are often not back friendly. By bringing your own lumbar support, you can take stress off the sensitive areas of the back.

Use cruise control.
While driving you may want to consider using the cruise control so that you do not have to have your foot on the gas, which will relieve stress in your foot, leg and spine.

Ice packs and heat. Bring along ice packs and self-heating packs for a long car ride. You can ice the affected area every 20 minutes. Then wait 20 minutes and repeat. Muscle rub ointment patches and self-heating packs also work wonders. Some of the heat packs can work up to 8 hours at a time. This can be a real relief when stuck in the same position for longer than you expect to be. If on a long plane ride, check TSA regulations about carry-on items allowed, or put the packs in your checked luggage to use after you get off the plane.

Take medications along. Make sure to take medications along so that you can get to them no matter how you are traveling. You will also want to bring water and maybe a snack to take these medications.

Happy travels!

For more information about back pain and prevention, visit www.texasback.com. Schedule your appointment today!

If you’d like additional tips or insights from Dr. Guyer, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

While garbage roll carts don’t appear threatening, moving them improperly can result in injury to your back. Dr. Jessica Shellock with the Texas Back Institute offers the following tips to help you move your roll cart safely:

Clear your route. Know where you’re going and anticipate where the cart might get stuck. Make sure your route is clear of things that could throw the cart off balance or cause you to trip. Patch up holes and smooth out bumps on footpaths.

Mind the weight. If the load seems too heavy for you to be able to tip the cart onto its wheels, this is a sign that you need to remove items in the cart and reduce its weight. It might be messy, but it’s well worth the extra trouble to avoid a senseless injury.

Get help with extra heavy loads. If your cart is heavy, ask someone to help you tip it back onto its wheels as an alternative to emptying some of the contents.
Close the lid first. Make sure you have a clear vision ahead of you before you move the cart.

Approach the cart head-on. Face the cart with both feet in the direction you will be moving the cart before you tip it back.

Use both hands. Don’t try to move the cart with one hand. Use the strength and balance gained by using both hands.

Find the right balance. Hold the cart handle and tip the cart back on its wheels. Find the balance point and maintain it when you roll the cart, not allowing the cart to tip too far forward or backward. This distributes the load and takes the pressure off of you to hold the cart up.

Push forward. When at all possible, always push the cart in front of you. If you must pull the cart to go up a hill, keep your back as straight as possible and remember to keep the load balanced on the wheels.

Careful if you get stuck. If the wheels get stuck in a crack or other obstacle, back up and let the weight and momentum of the cart do the work. Don’t jerk the cart to free it. If it’s really stuck and hard to move, reduce the weight of the cart or get help.

Let it go. If the cart tips to the side, don’t try to “catch it.” While your instinct is to not let the cart fall over, letting it go and cleaning up the mess is much safer can prevent serious injury.

About Texas Back Institute

Texas Back Institute, one of the largest freestanding multispecialty spine clinics in the United States, was established in 1977 and provides comprehensive medical care for back and neck pain. Texas Back Institute is a back care leader specializing in spinal arthroplasty, minimally invasive spine surgery, degenerative disk disease and spinal deformation. As an academic health care organization, Texas Back Institute has trained hundreds of physicians, scientists and allied health professionals. Its research institution employs state-of-the-art technology and is involved in many clinical trials, including artificial discs. Texas Back Institute’s professional staff includes board-certified spine surgeons, general surgeons, internists, physiatrists, pain specialists, exercise physiologists, and a team of physical and occupational therapists. Texas Back Institute has locations in Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, Mansfield, McKinney, Plano, Rockwall, Trophy Club, Wichita Falls, Tyler and Odessa, Texas, as well as Phoenix and Gilbert, Arizona.

For more information, visit www.texasback.com.  Schedule an appointment!

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