Being a caregiver to a senior can often be a physical job—and can even result in injury to the caregiver. One common issue for caregivers is back pain caused by helping to lift and move a senior with mobility issues.
“Moving somebody is the way that people end up with back problems,” said Dr. Brandy Archie, founding director of AccessAble Living. “First, it’s the repetition. You often have to do that frequently. If you do that in a not-ergonomically-safe way, it can cause back problems. If I’m helping somebody get out of the bed and I don’t lower the bed down or I stand too far away from them, then I’m putting strain on my back.”
Dr. Brandy Archie
The best option for dealing with back pain is to prevent it in the first place. That prevention can come through caregivers maintaining their own physical health, using the correct technique when lifting, and using assistive devices like a Hoyer lift or transfer discs.
Pay attention to your own health
While caregiving can be a full-time job, it’s important for caregivers to avoid back injuries by taking time to manage their own health. Because lifting can be such a big part of taking care of a senior family member, it’s important to strengthen the muscles that do the lifting—the abs and back muscles.
“Any kind of exercises that focus on your mid-section are useful as far as being proactive about keeping your body strong,” Archie said. “Strength training is helpful, but it’s not required. If that’s a way that you like to get exercise, that would be helpful.”
However, you don’t have to be at the gym every day lifting weights. Archie recommends simple exercises like crunches and leg lifts that can be done at home to help strengthen the abs and back.
Use the right technique when lifting or providing assistance
Most back injuries happen because of improper lifting technique. Whether you’re lifting a heavy item or helping another person stand, using the right technique will protect your back.
Archie said there are three things to keep in mind when lifting another person:
- Stay as close to the person as possible when they’re moving. Keep them close to your body.
- If you need to hold onto the person, do it at their torso, not their limbs. Hold on to their waistband or put on a gait belt, a special belt designed to provide a firm place to hold onto. If they have an actual belt on, hold onto that.
- Make sure you communicate. Count to three before moving so you both move at the same time.
Caring for a bedridden loved one can also create back problems for caregivers if the bed is not at the proper height.
“If you’re caring for someone who is in the bed most of the time, make sure that you’re not bending over the bed to do all of the care,” Archie said. “You want them at your chest level, so you’re not bending down. If you don’t have a hospital bed, consider getting one if you spend a lot of time bending over the bed.”
If you need help figuring out the correct technique for assisting your loved one, Archie recommends setting up a physical or occupational therapy appointment.
Use assistive devices
Besides hospital beds, a variety of assistive devices exist to help lessen the physical toll on caregivers and allow older adults in need of mobility assistance to safely move from one place to another. Various items can be helpful in protecting home caregivers from back injury while ensuring they can still help their loved one to safely move about.
If your loved one has trouble picking up their feet, a transfer disc might be helpful. These discs pivot and are useful for moving and turning your loved one without them having to lift their feet.
The Vive Pivot Disc provides a safe option for helping caregivers transfer seniors from one place to another. The nonslip back creates a sturdy platform for transferring your loved one without placing undue strain on your own back. It can be used on any surface, including both carpet and hardwood floors, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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Gait, or transfer, belts can be a huge help when it comes to a caregiver’s proper lifting technique. A gait belt provides a stable anchor point for caregivers to hold on to when helping to lift an older adult.
The Secure Transfer and Walking Gait Belt with Handles and a Quick Release Grip provides a secure handhold and is easy to get on and off. Made from nylon webbing and double-reinforced stitching, the belt is durable enough to withstand repeated lifting and moving.
While the best way to protect your back is to strengthen the muscles in your core, a back brace can be a helpful tool while you’re working on building that core strength.
The Mueller 255 Lumbar Support Back Brace can provide that support. Designed to relieve lower back pain, it comes with a removable lumbar pad that provides cushioning and support for your lower back.
For those who need more help lifting your loved one than a transfer disc or gait belt provides, a variety of patient lift options are available. Patient lifts, sometimes referred to as Hoyer lifts, do the heavy lifting for you and can be used to transfer an older person from one place to another or help them move from a sitting to a standing position. Because the lift does the heavy lifting, it reduces the risk of back injury.
If you’re the caregiver for a senior who needs help transitioning from sitting to standing, check out the Lumex Stand Assist Patient Transport Unit. This sit-to-stand lift has padded knee pads and locking casters to keep your senior safe and comfortable. It’s suitable for people who are at least 5 feet, 1 inch tall and weigh less than 400 pounds.
If the senior you care for requires more help moving from place to place, you can protect your back by using either a manual or hydraulic patient lift. The Hoyer Manual Patient Lift with Pump Handle provides a lower price point than many hydraulic lifts. The pump handle rotates so it can be used from both sides of the lift, and the adjustable base means it can be used in nearly any space.
If you want a lift that does all the heavy lifting, saving your back entirely, choose a hydraulic lift. Hydraulic lifts are battery-operated and provide a smooth up and down movement. The Pro Basics Patient Lift is a compact hydraulic lift suitable for lifting people up to 450 pounds. It has a six-point swivel bar attachment that’s compatible with a wide variety of slings.