Energy to care: Avoiding back pain

In this section:

> Introduction
> Stress management
> Technology and stress relief
> Less Salt
> Lower cholesterol
> Coping with guilt
> Be more assertive
> Boost your immune system
> Tempt your elderly or frail relatives outdoors
> Avoid back pain
> Getting the most from your GP
> Advice on prescribed drugs
> Difficult conversations
> Moving the person you care for
> Relaxation tips
> Laughter therapy

Back care tips for carers like you


Bupa’s musculoskeletal physiotherapist SIMON FAIRTHORNE offers his expert advice for taking care of your back when caring for a loved one.

Without proper advice and training, carers can be prone to back injuries and back pain.

‘Back pain has many causes, including poor posture, excess weight, stress and arthritis, but the commonest cause is an awkward movement – such as lifting,’ explains Bupa physiotherapist, Simon Fairthorne.

‘Before you attempt to lift someone, it’s worth taking a step back and assessing the situation before you rush in and do yourself some damage.’

What to avoid

Bending and twisting at the same time: ‘The most common cause of back pain in carers is a combination of bending and twisting at the same time,’ says Simon. ‘This combined movement puts pressure on discs, joints and spinal muscles. If you then rotate and are holding a heavy weight, this is the ultimate no-no and you want to avoid this at all costs. If you need to twist, wait until you have stood completely upright first, otherwise if you do both at the same time it will act like a corkscrew, pushing the vertebrae of the spine together and potentially causing muscles to go into spasm.’

Lifting when you’re tired or have back/neck pain: ‘Being tired or having existing back or neck pain may make your more prone to injury,’ advises Simon

Moving someone heavy: ‘You may have to accept that you need a second person to help you or a hoist, and you mustn’t be afraid to ask for this help. Think of when you see a footballer being taken off the pitch – most times it takes six men to lift him,’ advises Simon.

Losing your muscle strength: Don’t make the mistake of becoming less active to avoid hurting your back – this can lead to a vicious cycle of muscle degeneration, low mood, less exercise and more back pain.

Stay safe lifting tips

See our 10 point check-list for safe handling techniques.‘Another handy hint is to encourage your relative to relax and if possible rock forward – the momentum should make them easier to lift and it will avoid a tug-of-war situation developing,’ says Simon.

Looking after your back

Keep your spine supple:‘The spine needs strong muscles around free joints; one of the most simple exercises you can do to benefit your back is to lie flat and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground , then move them from the right side to the left side.

‘This helps to stretch out your spine and creates more space between the vertebrae and relaxes the spinal muscles.

Stay active: ‘Sitting down in a chair for long periods is one of the worst things for your back because it increases pressure on your spine, especially if you have bad posture says Simon. ‘I’d suggest you stay as active as possible - try swimming, walking and Pilates to strengthen your muscles.’

Shed excess pounds: ‘If you’re overweight, it places extra pressure on your back and joints, so try to lose some weight by eating healthier and exercising more,’ advises Simon.

Find ways to relax: ‘If the muscles in your neck and back are tense, they may be more prone to injury, so it’s important to find ways to ease stress, relax and wind down,’ says Simon. ‘A hot bath can help, as can yoga and relaxation techniques or any time spent doing something you enjoy.’

Back pain tips

Try the following:

Apply heat: ‘This should be your first source of pain relief in the first 24 hours if you have back pain,’ advises Simon. ‘Try applying a warm water bottle, soak in a warm bath or apply a heat pad. However, don’t apply cold compresses unless you are advised to do so by a doctor or physiotherapist, as this cause muscles to go into spasm.’

Take painkillers: ‘Simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, should work well in the first 48 hours if taken as directed,’ advises Simon.

Stay active: ‘You should never have bed rest for more than 1-2 days at the most due to a back injury otherwise your spine will start to seize up. Try to keep moving, even if it’s only around your house,’ says Simon.

See your doctor: ‘If pain persists longer than 48 hours, you may need stronger painkillers from your GP. If you have symptoms radiating into the leg or pins and needles and numbness, this may indicate you have a disc or joint problems and you may need referral to a physiotherapist or, if the problem persists, to a secondary care specialist. Surgery is the last resort when pain killers and physiotherapy have failed.’
For more information on back care see:


Bupa's factsheet on back pain

Bupa's factsheet on chronic back pain



Have you experienced back pain while caring. Share your back pain experiences in the forum.


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