Have you ever dealt with an achy-breaky back? If you haven't had the misfortune yet, I hate to say it, but you probably will. Not-so-fun fact: About 80% of Americans will deal with back pain at some point in their lives. For some, it's just a pulled muscle, but for others, it's much worse. As you age, it's the little movements and activities that lead to spinal disc deterioration. But it's not all bad news! From furniture placement to purchasing the right kind of tools, you can structure the layout and function of your home to keep your spine healthy. Here are a few adjustments you can make to your home for back pain relief, and to maintain the health of your spine.
Get Rid of Your Home Office Desk
If you spend all day sitting at a desk, eliminate the possibility of spending all evening sitting at one. Remaining in one position for extended periods of time is bad for a lot of areas in the body, and your back bears the brunt of the blow. Poor seated posture can compress the discs in your spine, which makes them deteriorate faster. Change up your posture and stand while you work at home (that's right, that means no couch, either!). Add a standing desk to your pre-existing one (this is the model that my boss Bruno uses at his desk), or trade your seated desk for a DIY one made of brackets and boards. The best at-home work station is at eye-level, which will keep your upper back and shoulders from curling forward as you use your laptop or computer.
Get Back Pain Relief from a Recliner
I know what you're probably thinking: “M.E., recliners are just the ugliest chairs in existence. I'll take the back pain over that decor disaster, thankyouverymuch.” But wait – hear me out on this one! Sitting in a reclined position is the doctor-recommended position for alleviating pain in the back (I would know – I was there when my wife's doctor said, “Hey, get a recliner. It'll alleviate back pain.”). It's the angle of the chair that gives you back pain relief; your legs are up, and your back is fully supported at a 180º angle.
Regarding the unarguable decor disaster that is the La-Z-Boy, just know that there are other options out there. Not all recliners will take up 25% of your living room's floor plan, nor do they all have to come in leather. Many recliners are now designed in incognito mode like this Henley chair from Wayfair or this Dalton recliner found at Target. Recliners are also being designed in a stripped down, minimal fashion like this Mid Century-inspired one from Crate & Barrel.
Figure in Some Footstools
Similar to the way a recliner can provide you with back pain relief, a footstool can do the same. To take some of the pressure off your L5-S1, prop your feet up on a stool or ottoman that is slightly lower than the height of your sofa or chair. In addition to being one of the simpler back remedies, adding a footstool to your lounge or living room is also a quick method for adding color and pattern to a space. Plus, ottomans are one of the easiest piece of furniture to give a makeover.
Create Space in your Home for Your Health
Make it easy to work on the health of your spine by carving out a section of your square footage just for your back. It doesn't have to be a large area, and it doesn't have to be a total at-home gym. All you need is enough space to lie down on the floor comfortably. There are several stretches you can do to give yourself back pain relief at home. If you create a designated space in your home, you'll likely be more eager to do your physical therapy exercises or daily stretching if you don't have to rearrange furniture every time you want to roll out your yoga mat.
Grab a large basket, and store these items together for easy access when you need some back pain relief at home:
- A yoga mat or a comfy towel
- A small blanket (nice to roll up or sit on while stretching when your muscles are feeling extra tight)
- A strap or towel (excellent for wrapping around the foot when doing a hamstring stretch)
Keep a Stockpile of Hot and Cold Packs
If you deal with chronic back pain, you probably already have a freezer full of ice packs and a heating pad or two. If you injure your back, start with a cold pack first to reduce swelling, and if necessary, move to a hot pack to help with muscle tightness. To make your own ice pack, combine water and rubbing alcohol in a freezer bag. It won't freeze solid, and instead will remain slushy but cold. Alternatively, you can freeze wet sponges and keep those on hand for any unexpected twinges or strains.
Get Back Pain Relief by Firming Up Your Mattress
If you wake up every morning in pain, it's not just a sign that you “slept funny.” It means something funny is up with your bedding. If you can afford to trade out your un-supportive mattress for a new one, do that! If a new bed is out of the budget, there are a few temporary ways you can firm up your existing mattress:
- If you haven't flipped your mattress in a while, start there
- Purchase a firming mattress topper
- Replace the box spring
- Add a bed board – this is a literal board that you add in between your mattress and the box spring. You can buy one or make your own, and is especially helpful if your mattress sags in the middle (which can cause major back injury over time)
Be Mindful of Countertop Height
I always clean dishes by hand at the kitchen sink. Even when I lived in an apartment that had a dishwasher, I always preferred to scrub plates a few times a day rather than save them up for one dishwasher load. What I began to notice was that every time I step away from my kitchen sink, my back hurts a bit. My shoulders would also curl forward during this chore. Because the sink is a little lower than it should be, my posture suffers.
When you're working in the kitchen, be mindful of the countertop height. If you are a taller person and your countertops are shorter, the repetitive bend downwards will show in the health of your spine. To keep your spine straight, try bending at the knees as you chop vegetables. Keep your tailbone curled under, and your shoulders back. If this pose is strenuous to hold, try raising your countertop to meet you. Much like a standing desk, you can prop up your cutting board on a cookbook to give yourself fewer inches to bend over to.
Arrange Your Home in a Cleaning-Friendly Way
Scrubbing behind the toilet, moving the coffee table each time you vacuum the living room, bending over to change the sheets… housework is hard work, and like any other strenuous activity, it can have a negative impact on your spine if you're not careful. To prevent injury, avoid excessive twisting and straining when you clean. On top of mindfulness, you can start with a cleaning-friendly home.
When arranging furniture in your home, consider placement. Does the vacuum cleaner fit in between the side table and the couch, or will you have to physically move the side table once a week? Consider giving the side table felt feet so you only have to slide it, rather than pick it up. Maybe it's a bench that doubles as storage. What about adding a few casters to the bottom so you can slide it out of the way when you need to mop? Invest in a tool that makes scrubbing easier, or a mop that requires no bending or buckets of cleansing liquid.
Hopefully these healthy home back remedies have you inspired to sit up straight and stretch more often. Remember – you only get one spine, so take care of it!