Take Care of Yourself - Watch Out for Your Back

It's a fact of life. It takes a strong back to be a caregiver. You can easily find yourself lifting hundreds of pounds in a single day, including, from time to time, your loved one. Since your ability to continue helping your loved one depends on your ability to keep your back healthy, it only makes sense to take precautions when lifting or bending.

First and foremost, dedicate some time every day to improving your strength and flexibility. If you belong to a gym, ask the trainer to recommend back exercises that you can do. A number of organizations, including the Mayo Clinic, have slide shows and videos on back exercise. Before you embark on an exercise program, it's always a good idea to consult your physician.

But no matter how often you exercise, it's unlikely that you will develop the strength and stamina of an Olympic weight lifter. Understanding your own limitations is critical to extending the warranty on your back. If you feel yourself beginning to strain when lifting medical supplies, find someone to help you. Strain is a sign that you are nearing the limits of your strength. Be especially cautious at the end of the day, when you feel tired or fatigued.

If you think you can handle the weight you must lift, take a moment to look around before swinging into action. If the floor is wet and slippery or cluttered with objects you might trip over, take a moment to secure your surroundings. Then take another moment to cultivate the Zen of lifting. Visualize yourself taking your time, lifting with your legs, keeping your back straight, and moving fluidly without any jerking motions. Now you're ready to go.

Lifting your loved one is much more daunting than lifting an inanimate object—and special precautions are necessary. To preserve your balance, hold your loved one close to you, rather than at arm's length. At the first sign that your loved one is unsteady or about to fall, lower them to the floor as gently as possible and seek assistance.

Many local health departments, hospitals, and rescue squads offer classes for caregivers with pointers on lifting. Just a few calls should connect you to resources in your community that will acquaint you with the techniques you need to safeguard your back and protect your loved one.

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To improve your back strength and flexibility, try the Mayo Clinic's 15-minute exercise program.