Illustration: Adela Kang
A too-short stroller or an improper pushing technique (like leaning forward with your elbows out) can lead to pain in your mid-back and neck.
Ensure the handles are high enough so you aren’t hunched over (look for adjustable models). As you walk, keep your posture straight and your elbows in—you shouldn’t have to actively push. Later, stretch your mid-back by lying face up on a rolled towel running the length of your spine. Then just lie there, blissfully undisturbed, for as long as you can.
Teaching our kids to walk. Tying their shoes. So much of our lives as parents are spent bent over and lugging stuff—often in an awkward way. All that schlepping, as you know, leads to lower back pain.
“Think before you lift and then tighten your muscles and breathe out,” says physiotherapist Maureen Dwight. Bend those knees; place the car seat down on a bench instead of the floor; encourage kids to pick up their toys. Walking is a good antidote, as are exercises that build your core muscles.
Kids love the view, but having someone sitting on your shoulders changes your posture and adds extra weight, putting a strain on your neck.
Limit how long you carry your kid. When junior reaches about 40 pounds, it’s time to say no. “It’s such a bad position,” says physiotherapist Maureen Dwight. “Just avoid it.”
Gaze at your baby for hours—but wait until she’s done breastfeeding. Holding your neck in any awkward position for a sustained length of time can lead to strain.
Try another breastfeeding position, ensuring your back is supported and baby’s head is at breast level. Registered massage therapist Mike Reoch suggests this stretch: Sit on one hand, palm up, and tilt your head gently away from that shoulder.
Sharing your bed with a tiny body can cause you to perform all sorts of contortions. The most common position—sleeping with your arm raised above your head—can lead to a minor impingement of the rotator cuff (i.e., not a good thing) says chiropractor Debbie Wright.
Change positions—don’t hold still if you’re uncomfortable. The best solution: Place the bassinet right beside your bed so you have the space to move.
Whether you’re cradling a newborn’s head or hoisting a toddler on one hip, holding your hand with your thumb splayed or your wrist in a bent position for a sustained length of time will cause problems, including possible repetitive strain injuries.
Your thumb, wrist and forearm muscles are for fine-motor tasks, not for carrying little people, says chiropractor Debbie Wright. Use bigger muscles like your biceps, keeping your wrist straight. Rest when you can, and switch positions frequently.
Squatting and kneeling repeatedly—like we do when we play with our kids—can cause patellofemoral syndrome. In women, this can be exacerbated by changes in alignment and laxity in the pelvic area, especially in the postpartum period. It also causes issues with sacroiliac joints.
Switch positions and stretch your legs as often as you can. Straight-leg raises can help stabilize your knees.
Children with empathetic parents fare better emotionally, but recent research has shown, surprisingly, that feeling compassion for your kids has physical ramifications, creating long-term low-grade inflammation in you. This weakens your immune system and can be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.
Obviously, you shouldn’t stop caring about your kids, but remember to care for yourself, too. Get enough sleep when you can, squeeze in some exercise and reduce stress as much as possible.
Having kids has its benefits, too. You develop more physical strength and get more exercise in general. Studies have also found that parents tend to have lower blood pressure, and mothers have improved cognitive abilities and a reduced risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.
“You can feel these problems coming on,” says Debbie Wright, a chiropractor in Courtenay, B.C. “If you catch them early enough, you can take steps on your own to decrease pain and inflammation.”
Apply ice to the area as soon as you can, for 15 to 20 minutes. Ice at least once per day, more often if the pain is severe, waiting at least 45 minutes in between.
Ask your physiotherapist, chiropractor or massage therapist to recommend a stretch specifically for the problem spot.
Figure out what position or action is causing the pain and then modify it. If you’re stumped, ask your physiotherapist or massage therapist for suggestions.
Movement is important for building strength to avoid injury as well as for easing pain.
If the pain doesn’t disappear within five days or interferes with daily life, visit a chiropractor, physiotherapist or massage therapist.
A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2016 issue, titled "The pain of parenting", pg.74-75.