Top tips to avoid back pain when moving house

Everyone knows that moving house is listed as one of the top 3 most stressful events of anyone’s life, following closely behind  bereavement and marriage.   Having just moved house and recently said “I do” within a month of each other myself I can certainly vouch for that! But taking action to minimise the physical stresses will ensure that the transition into your new house is as smooth as possible and leaves you with only boxes to unpack not a need for painkillers and  avoidable chiropractic appointments.

Moving house is not an everyday task for most people (hopefully) and so for the majority of people their bodies are not practised at it, nor are usually ready for what is essentially a strenuous, and often long and arduous activity. Add to that the job of coordinating children and pets and it becomes no mean task. But there are things to be mindful of both during the run up and day as well as afterwards.

Physical condition

Moving house is physically demanding and so if you are feeling at all unwell or have any physical complaints, no matter how mild, then it is important to address them prior to the move. Failing to do so may mean aggravation of any problems or at the least being left with very low energy levels and a struggle with the move.
Taking care of your diet is also very important to keep you in top shape. Taking multivitamins can help to replace any vitamins and minerals which may be lost during times of stress and add those which your body may demand more of. Specific supplements are also useful, such as  omega 3 fish oil, glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin, to help with your joints during the move.

Removal Company

It may seem obvious but so many people have a large move and try and do it all themselves. If you can budget for a team of removers to do the bulk or all of the moving then it is certainly worth it in terms of saving time and energy and of course stress. These professionals are used to the job in hand and are more efficient at it.
And of course, age is a factor in heavy manual tasks such as moving house, with movement smoothness in the hips and ankle joints decreasing with advancing age (Sakata et al, 2010). So if you are less than a spring chicken nowadays (or feel such) this is a wonderful time to make the most of your project managing skills and stand back to coordinate rather than roll your sleeves up and muck in.

Packing

When packing boxes try to avoid being too over zealous. Keep the loads to a minimum if possible in each box and distribute the contents evenly and securely to avoid movement within the boxes as they are carried.

Preparation

Knowing where items will go and roughly what is in each box not only to minimises anxiety levels but also gives you more information about what is inside each box to ease with moving and later unpacking it.
With this comes labelling the boxes according to their rough weight (i.e. If you feel yourself puffing a little when lifting it then you may like to consider it as a likely candidate for ‘heavy’). Although there is some controversy within the research regarding the exact nature of compressive forces and thus likely injury to the back from lifting an unexpectedly heavy load (Van der Burg et al, 2000 & 2001) there is certainly a risk of strain to your back and abdominal muscles despite lifting with a good technique.
However care should also be taken if a box is very light, as finding this suddenly can not only cause a loss of balance but the sudden acceleration in lifting may be even more likely to cause an injury or strain to the back.

Lifting Technique

Everybody is different, as is every lifting task, however as a rule it is prudent to bear in mind the insightful words of one skiing instructor “Bend ze knees”. It is so important to adopt a technique which is right for you but one which keeps the back straight and takes most of the strain through the more powerful legs.
Lifting naturally causes the lumbar spine to straighten and lose its curve as the item is lifted. The heavier the load the more strain is taken up by the muscles and ligaments of the back and abdominals (Maduri et al, 2008). Injury then occurs when these fatigue due to excessive lifting or trying to lift items which are too heavy. The strong quadriceps muscles of the legs however are designed to bear far more load without struggling.
Although there is again some controversy, the general consensus is that adopting a half squat position when lifting is the most preferable for protecting the back. Here the load is evenly spread in both hands at either side or else directly in front of the body, knees are bent and the back is kept straight and upright. This posture not only guards against loss of balance (Heiss et al, 2002) but the bending of the knees reduces the movement that the spine has to struggle with in coping with the load (Mörl et al, 2005). It also ensures equal distribution of the load and therefore equal activation of postural muscles in the lift.
And of course never twist when lifting or carrying a load, or lift it far from your body or over an obstacle if possible, no matter how light it may seem. This is a sure way to cause back injuries as it dramatically increases the load on the spine and forces through it (Idsart et al, 2004). ‘Symmetrical lifting’ is always the preferred method for any load (Brown et al, 2004) and this is worth bearing in mind if you have loaded boxes into your car and need to retrieve them.
Existing back or neck complaints will affect your lifting technique and if you have a history of trouble it is likely that you will not only have developed an adapted lifting technique which may, or may not minimise your risk of back strain, but you are likely to be able to lift a fewer number of times and less load before you start to feel it in your body (Rudy et al, 2003).

Take Time

Throughout the move take plenty of breaks. Walk around the house, have a cup of tea…anything which will give your back a rest and get your moving. And once the removal van has pulled away and the front door has closed, make sure that you try not to rush the next phase of the move; the unpacking. This can be just as stressful and still involve a great deal of lifting as carrying. It is important to remember that you have the next number of years to get everything in the right place and that it will no doubt be moved several times before then before you are satisfied. And so take your time unpacking. It does not have to all be done that day. Just make sure that you have unpacked the vital things; the kettle, teabags and milk – and a few cheeky chocolate biscuits to reward yourself for your hard work!

Key points for moving house:

  • Prepare yourselves as well as your house for the move.
  • Load boxes evenly and not too heavy.
  • Mark boxes if over heavy or over light.
  • Use a removal company if possible.
  • Keep yourself healthy and do not ignore any physical ‘niggles’ in the run up to the move.
  • Lift with the back straight and knees bent to take the load.
  • Avoid twisting by keeping the load in front and close to you or, if in bags, evenly in both hands at your sides.
  • Take regular and frequent breaks.
  • Sitters for children or pets help to reduce your stress.
  • Don’t try and unpack all in one day!
Good luck with the moving and wishing you a happy home!
References
Brown, H., Paul, L., Hislop, J., & McFayden, A. (2004). Erector spinae activity during three methods of lifting a baby car seat in postnatal women and matched controls. Physiotherapy. Vol. 90, No.4, pp. 204-209.
Faber, G.S., Kingma, I., Bakker, A.J.M., & van Dieen, J.H. (2002).Low-back loading in lifting two loads beside the body compared to lifting one load in front of the body. Journal of Biomechanics. Vol. 42. No. 1. pp.35-41. 5 Jan 2009.
Heiss, D.G., Shields, R.K., & Yack, H.J. Balance loss when lifting a heavier-than-expected load: Effects of lifting technique. (2002). Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Vol. 83, No.1, pp. 48-59.
Idsart , I., Jaap, H., & van Dieën, J.H. (2004). Lifting over an obstacle: effects of one-handed lifting and hand support on trunk kinematics and low back loading. Journal of Biomechanics. Vol. 37, No.2, pp.249-255.
Maduri, A., Pearson, B.L., Wilson, S.E. (2008). Lumbar–pelvic range and coordination during lifting tasks
Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. Vol. 18, No. 5, pp.807-814.
Mörl,F., Wagner, H., & Blickhan, R. (2005). Lumbar spine intersegmental motion analysis during lifting.
Pathophysiology. Vol. 12, No.4, pp.295-302.
Rudy, T.E., Boston, J.R., Lieber, S.J., Kubinski, J.A., & Stacey, B.R. (2003). Body motion during repetitive isodynamic lifting: a comparative study of normal subjects and low-back pain patients. Pain.
Vol. 105, No.1, pp. 319-326.
Sakata, K., Kogure, A., Hosoda,M., Isozaki, K., Masuda, T., & Morita, S. (2010). Evaluation of the age-related changes in movement smoothness in the lower extremity joints during lifting. Gait & Posture. Vol.31. No.1. pp.27-31.
Van der Burg, J.C.E., van Dieën, J.H., & Toussaint, H.M. (2000). Lifting an unexpectedly heavy object: the effects on low-back loading and balance loss. Clinical Biomechanics. Vol.15. No.7. pp.469-477.
Van der Burg, J.C.E., & van Dieën, J.H. (2001). Underestimation of object mass in lifting does not increase the load on the low back. Journal of Biomechanics. Vol.34. No.11. pp.1447-53.
Wrigley, A.T., Albert, W.J., Deluzio., K.J., & Stevenson, J.M. (2005). Differentiating lifting technique between those who develop low back pain and those who do not. Clinical Biomechanics. Vol.20. No.3. pp.254-63.

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