It is always uncomfortable to see someone in pain, and it is also true that many of us don't know what to do when confronted with this situation. Many people with back pain could benefit from a helping hand as they work to gain control of their pain or progress through rehabilitation.
If you're the one with back pain, consider forwarding this blog to a loved one who can help you out. The Share button above is an easy way to send a message with email, messaging, or social media networks. The tips here outline how friends, family members and colleagues can make simple changes that show the person with back pain that you do understand and want to help them.
Rearrange the household to minimize back strain
It isn't obvious how much bending, lifting, and stretching one does every day until you see someone have difficulty doing these activities. Like most of us, individuals with back pain are most comfortable in their own homes, and making a few changes around the house can minimize how much they have to do. As a first step, inventory what the individual uses each day so you can rearrange furnishings for maximum comfort. Some ideas:
- Move frequently used items to chest height. Daily dishes or the coffee pot in the kitchen should be easily accessible (not require reaching or bending) as should everyday toiletries in the bathroom. Cabinets in both rooms usually allow shelves to be adjusted for optimal height.
- Make sure favorite furniture is 'back friendly'. Most everyone has a favorite chair or resting place, and most of those places can be customized with pillows or supports that keep the back patient's posture correct.
- Eliminate stairs. Many back pain patients have a tough time negotiating stairs because of the repeated impact of moving up and down. If a bedroom or home office can be relocated to the first floor that could save a lot of energy.
Remember, the goal is not to eliminate all activity (movement and exercise is good for the back), just to eliminate or reduce movements that make the back pain worse. For more ideas about how to make your home more comfortable, read Mattresses for Back Conditions and Pillow Support and Comfort.
Re-allocate chores to fit everyone's ability
Most people want to feel useful and appreciated for their efforts, and people with back pain are no different. The key is to acknowledge that, while they may have some temporary or long-term limitations on what activities they can do, they can take on new responsibilities that don’t impose physical hardship.
- Divvy up high and low activity chores. In any household there are jobs that require more mental power and less physical work (cooking, paying the bills) and others that rely on muscle power (vacuuming, taking the garbage out). After listing all the weekly chores, suggest that the family member with back pain choose a few that they can do, and you figure out how to do the rest.
- Hire someone for heavy manual labor. Rather than avoid a job that requires lifting or bending, consider hiring someone to move furniture or clean out the garage. A small investment will get infrequent tasks accomplished.
- Take on or minimize driving. Driving (getting in and out of the car, constantly looking over one’s shoulder) with back pain can be difficult. With a little planning, trips can be minimized. Better yet, avoid driving all together by using the Internet to make purchases or asking a trusted friend to combine your grocery shopping or errands when they do theirs.
Learn more about staying comfortable while on the move in Pain-Free Travel Tips.
Help keep rehabilitation on track
Showing that you understand and will help with someone's rehabilitation is a great show of support, and will most likely lift both their spirit and physical wellbeing.
- Be a rehab buddy. Join in, whether it is an exercise program, a commitment to meditation, or learning about a new hobby. Interest equals empathy.
- Develop reminder systems. Remembering to take medication or get up every hour to move around has never been easier. If you are technologically inclined, program your loved one's computer, cell phone or watch to remind them to do what needs to be done.
- Get healthy together. Fixing a nutritious lunch or dinner can underscore the commitment to better health, as well as provide a great way to socialize.
Evaluate and re-equip the office
If you have a home office or care for a co-worker, there are things you can do to help minimize back pain for somebody during work hours. Much like the home has to be outfitted a little differently, the comfort level of everyone's office can usually be improved. The biggest challenge is to find the right chair so that a colleague with back pain can work comfortably. Many insurance companies will cover the cost of chair supports or even different chairs if medically necessary.
- Use an ergonomic chair or back support. Maintaining correct posture is much easier if the chair helps alignment, rather than hurts. Many office furniture manufacturers have a full line of ergonomic chairs in both traditional and non-traditional (e.g., kneeling) styles. See Back Support in Office Chairs.
- Make sure peripheral items are easy to use. Office accoutrements like lighting and the position of the computer can also impact spine health. A mix of overhead and spot lighting eliminates eye and neck strain, and a monitor screen that is slightly lower than eye level will cut down on overarching or slouching.
Many people who live with chronic pain or are recovering from surgery need short-term assistance. This is particularly true for those with back pain, who tend to suffer both physically and emotionally. See Managing Chronic Back Pain and Depression. By helping friends and family members in large and small ways we speed their recovery and show we are personally invested in their health.