AlzU Blog

5 Things Back Pain May be Trying to Tell Alzheimer's Caregivers

If you care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), you may be interested in learning about what your back pain is trying to tell you.  Back problems are a common malady for caregivers, as many are involved in daily re-positioning, transferring, and providing care that requires frequent bending and stooping.

If you have pain in your back, know that it is your body’s way of alerting you that something is not right.  You may be able to pinpoint a specific time when you twisted or bent over and physically experienced pain in your back.  On the other hand, many back injuries happen without any recollection of exactly what occurred to cause the problem.  Here are some common causes of back pain along with some suggestions for solutions.

Problem: stress
Sress is a very common cause of back pain; the discomfort can be caused by tight muscles and/or knots in the upper back and neck.  Anxiety can compound the problem and can result in back spasms, says Ada Stewart, MD, a family physician with the Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers in Columbia, South Carolina.  Once back pain has begun, worrying about it can make it worse.

Relaxation techniques, meditation, and deep breathing have been found to help reduce stress.  Studies show that a weekly routine of yoga and stretching helped relieve lower back pain.  Before you begin any type of workout regime (even yoga) be sure to consult with your physician. 

Problem: improper body mechanics
Twisting when lifting, bending over instead of squatting, or improperly performing lifts and transfers may very well be the culprit when it comes to back or neck pain.

You can learn more about proper body mechanics on the blog.  Never lift or attempt to help transfer your loved one without learning about proper body mechanics and practicing mock transfers with the supervision of a professional physical therapist, nurse or other body mechanics expert.

Problem: Excessive use of computers, tablets or smartphones
Hunching over a computer or tablet for long periods of time can cause what physical therapists call “text neck.”  Holding the head forward with the neck flexed down for long periods of time can lead to muscle strain, disc injury, nerve impingement and arthritic changes of the neck while increasing the potential for developing chronic neck and shoulder pain.

Set a timer to alert you to stretch periodically and avoid long periods of uninterrupted time looking at the computer or tablet.  Sitting in a chair with a neck support can be helpful to prevent neck flex.  Using a tablet holder to elevate the device can reduce the amount of neck flexion required to see the screen.  Neck pain, discomfort between the shoulder blades, numbness and tingling of the arms, or frequent headaches could indicate a serious health problem.  Be sure to consult with your physician if you have any of these symptoms.

Problem: Poor posture when sitting
Just as being in front of the computer for long periods of time can wreak havoc on the neck and shoulders, sitting all day long can also cause pain and other complications, particularly if you have poor posture.  Bad posture can cause an increased amount of tension on joints, ligaments, and bones as well as intervertebral discs. 

Consider the use of a standing position (with an elevated desktop), but keep in mind that standing all day long can also cause problems.  Optimally, one should change from a sitting to standing position and then back to sitting again on a regular basis, with short periods for stretching in between. Good sitting posture includes:

-Keeping the forearms parallel to the floor
-Maintaining the head in line with the torso
-Keeping feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
-Supporting the back completely
-Keeping thighs parallel to the floor

Problem: A serious medical condition
Medical problems such as a ruptured disk can cause back pain.  The vertebral disks act to cushion the spine, but over time the disks can become flat or even rupture.  This can be a natural result of aging or it may occur secondary to an accident. 

Seek medical advice as soon as possible.

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