When you think of summer you think of vacations, family time and outdoor activities. But many of these summer traditions can result in back pain if you aren’t careful.
“Summer is a time when folks start up new activities,” says Dr. Bergin. “We don’t often think of these things as activities we should prepare for physically, and so a sudden change in environment and activity can result in repetitive strain, just as though you had started a new weightlifting program.”
Going on Vacation
If you are planning on taking a road trip and you have what Dr. Bergin calls “physical liabilities,” which can include chronic back pain, be sure to prepare. Dr. Bergin recommends you bring along any pain-relieving medications, braces, salves, or any other products that alleviate your back pain.
Dr. Bergin says, “Don’t establish an overzealous vacation program or location,” and, “Lighten the load. It’s time to get the newer, lighter types of luggage. Also, bring less stuff.”
Picking up your luggage from the carousel after a flight seems like a benign task, but it can induce back pain if you’re not careful.
“Move to the end of the carousel when waiting for your luggage at the airport,” Dr. Bergin advises. “Wait for everyone else to grab their luggage and move the pieces around, so that by the time it gets to you, it’s all straight, and nothing else is in the way. Then gently reach and pick up your piece of luggage.”
She also warns that carry-on bags can cause aches and pains. Lifting bags into the overhead bin can be stressful to shoulders and backs. Instead, go with a downsized tote bag or a purse.
Trying a New Sport
Studies suggest that low back pain from playing sports is common, and it can be even worse if you’re a newbie. So, while summer might seem like the ideal time to try a new sport or if you are taking up a familiar sport after a break, Dr. Bergin suggests preparing ahead of time and avoiding jumping right in, saying, “Get conditioned to the physical work and the weather.” In other words: take it slow.
Taking Care of Kids or Grandkids
With the kids or grandkids out of school, you’ll probably be busy with memory-making activities. But trying to keep up with kids or grandkids can be a recipe for back pain. Dr. Bergin recommends not over doing it.
“Nowadays, grandparents are so often the trusted go-to caretakers for children in the summertime,” Dr. Bergin says. “You can’t wait to take care of grandkids—but everything in moderation.”
If you’re babysitting, Dr. Bergin says that it can help to stay on the ground floor instead of navigating stairs from the basement or attic and try to avoid household chores if you can, depending on the severity of your back pain.
Moving to a New Home
Since summer is a common time for people to move, it can also be a prime time for back pain due to heavy lifting.
One 2017 study published in International Journal of Engineering and Advanced Technology suggests that lifting heavy objects makes up the largest single category of worker’s compensation claims, resulting in 25% of all disability cases.
If you’re elderly or deal with a serious back condition, Dr. Bergin says that prep work goes beyond hiring movers. She suggests hiring someone else, like a housekeeper, landscaper, or handyperson, or a family member or friend, to help you get ready for the movers and unpack everything at your destination.
Working in the Garden
“Spring and summer are when things really get cooking in the yard and garden,” Dr. Bergin says. All the bending and stooping to keep a garden going can be a real source of back pain. In fact, one 2009 study observed people doing various gardening tasks, and low back pain was reported the most among participants.
“If you have liabilities, get help,” Dr. Bergin says. “Gardening brings as many patients to me as pickleball and dark, shifty stairwells.”
She recommends sitting on a bench while you garden instead of squatting and avoiding spending hours at a time in your yard.
Dr. Bergin says that it also could be time for you to invest in yard products that can lighten the load, such an electric lawnmower. “No more pull starter,” she adds. “That’s a killer for the back and rotator cuff.”