5 Summer Activities That Bring on Back Pain

Summertime is full of simple pleasures, and back pain shouldn’t keep you from enjoying them.

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Now that the temperatures are well above freezing and the ice is long gone, we’ve all emerged from winter hibernation, ready to enjoy everything that summer has to offer. While summer and fun are often synonymous, with that warm weather comes activities that might cause or worsen existing back pain.

Man with back pain from summer activitiesDon't let back pain keep you from summer fun!

Summer tends to mark a spike in emergency room visits overall, something that’s been studied by The Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health. People gravitate toward outdoor activities that take them out from under the blankets and into the sun. These endeavors are undoubtedly pleasant, but may result in an unpleasant backaches.

“Summer is a time when folks start up new activities,” says Barbara Bergin, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics. “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.”

She adds that this is something that “goes double for the back,” since it’s at the core of so much of what we do in our daily lives.

But don’t worry—you can still have a wonderful summer full of the activities you love and avoid back pain. Dr. Bergin shares her top summer situations that can bring on back pain and what to do about it.

Going on Vacation

For many, summer means road trips and vacations to far-flung locales. But if you have what Dr. Bergin calls “physical liabilities,” which can include chronic back pain, be sure to prepare. This means that it’s key to bring along any pain-relieving medications, braces, salves, or anything else that alleviates your back pain.

Also, it can help to adhere to the “less is more” adage for your travels. 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.”

Additionally, just because you can bring a carry-on, it doesn’t mean you have to. Lifting bags into the overhead bin can be stressful to shoulders and backs. Instead, go with a downsized tote bag or a purse.

And since you’ll naturally be walking a lot during your vacation, it’s imperative to pack good shoes.

Trying a New Sport

Tennis! Golf! Biking! There are so many sports that are ideal for summer, and maybe you’d like to try them for the first time. Even though it’s fun to try new things, it could be a recipe for disaster when it comes to your back. Studies suggest that low back pain from playing sports is common, and it can be even worse if you’re a newbie.

If you haven’t been doing a particular sport all year, and you’re suddenly taking it up, 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 have lots of opportunities to do memory-making activities with them—and a back injury shouldn’t be one of those memories.

“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.

All that heavy lifting can add up to intense pain. 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. While you may adore working in the garden, an aching back may prevent you from doing all the gardening you’d like to do. 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.”

Updated on: 07/07/21
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