I know it comes in handy to use your back pain as an excuse but it’s time for you to pick up what you drop and wipe what you spill! If you’ve had pain in your back, hips or knees, you know what it’s like to bend with that pain or stiffness. It can impact various areas of your life such as picking up a remote control off the floor, pulling up your pants, and trimming your toenails. Alas, do not despair, my friends. There are different ways to compensate for this.
The most “back friendly” method of low level reaching is squatting or kneeling, never bend at the waist. If you are able to squat or kneel, go right ahead but please try to keep your back as upright as possible. If you have hip or knee pain, however, it may be painful for you to squat or kneel. The following may help:
- Try widening your feet and bending your knees slightly when stooping to reach low level. Rest one forearm on your thigh for support.
- A golfer’s leg lift where you stand on one foot and lift the other foot behind you while reaching down. The idea is to keep your back straight by keeping one leg aligned with your back.
- If you have a poor balance and painful hips/knees, try sitting on a chair/couch/step and getting down to low level in a seated position. To get up, you’ll have to reverse this by pushing up with your arms. This technique can be handy because you can sit on a wheeled stool and roll around while bending as needed to get things done (e.g. painting a wall or furniture).
It’s hard to strike up a balance between staying active and resting enough to recover from your activity but what can I say? It must be done. I know it’s hard to stop in the midst of planting your flower bed so you push through only to suffer later. How can you stop after painting only one coat? Well, there’s no perfect solution but maybe this will help. I suggest you vary what you are doing so you are in different position frequently. For example, if you are painting, paint from top to bottom so you are reaching different levels frequently instead of sustaining one position for prolonged periods. If you are gardening, do activities at different heights such as weeding one minute then deadheading another.
Remember to take short but frequent breaks. Your body will forgive you more easily if you take short but frequent breaks rather than seldom but long breaks. If you forget to take breaks, set alarms and timers. Tell your friend to call you every 30minutes (must be a very good friend), whatever it takes.
Try a long-handled equipment. There are long-handled reachers for grasping objects off the floor or high levels, long-handled tub scrub, long-handled toilet cleaner, and long-handled dustpan. There are also sock aid, long-handled shoe horn, and long-reach scissors for trimming toenails. In addition to a mop and a broom, this equipment should cover most of your daily needs. The question is, which ones work and which ones don’t? Here’s my take on them.
There are different length long-handled reachers from 18”-32”. Some have magnetic tips, some have suction cups at the end while others are just plastic tips. You may want to get different lengths depending on your height and what you want to use it for. It can be used for picking up objects off the floor, loading/unloading the washer/dryer, and even dressing. Remember, if the reacher is too long, it might be awkward to use it for things like pulling up your pants. Also, some people find the reacher more helpful than sock-aids for donning socks. The longer the reacher, the less leverage you have.
Sock-aid typically consists of a curved plastic piece with a string attached to it. Most clients I’ve worked with found this tool to be ineffective. They found it difficult to push their foot through the sock aid because the plastic was too flexible, causing the sock to close the plastic in, creating a small tunnel. The string is also flexible so they had difficulty aiming with it. There are other models with stiff handle, but this may require more low level reaching depending on the model. Neither of these models enable you to pull up your socks all the way up the leg which can be annoying. Most of my clients find it helpful to use the handle of their long-handled shoehorn or their cane to pull the sock up. If you don’t have access to either of these sock aids, a combination of a long-handled reacher, long-handled shoehorn and a cane may help with donning socks. There may be some acrobatics involved but they are better than nothing. Unless you have a very helpful spouse or roommate, they are worth keeping around.
A long-handled shoehorn is useful for keeping the back of the heel open while you slide your foot in. It can also be helpful for pulling up on socks, pants, underwear, etc provided that it has a curved handle like this one. If you are donning shoes with a tongue, the shoehorn is not going to help you keep the tongue up. In this case, you may want to use combination of a long-handled reacher and a shoehorn.
If you can afford a pedicure regularly, great. Enjoy! You have a friend or a spouse who can help you with this? Excellent. Try not to upset them. For the rest of you, you may want to try long-handled toenail scissors, nail file, or nail clipper with suction cups or a remote nail clipper. These tools may not work for everyone, especially if you have mobility problems. It’s one of those things you might have to try and see if you can develop different techniques to make it work for yourself. Unfortunately, a lot of these tools on the market are poorly constructed and tend to break easily or do not cut easily.
The easiest way to reach your foot is to sit down and raise your foot on a chair or a stool to reach. This minimizes the bending. If you have difficulty bending because of your back, long-handled scissors might work better for you. If you have arthritis in your hands, you might want to look for something that cuts well.
If you have issues with your hands, try to maintain your nails by filing them down regularly so you don’t have to cut them.
There are various types of long handled tub scrubs. Some are height adjustable and most of them will enable you to replace the head when needed. Don’t expect these to clean as well as your own hands because they won’t. The longer the handle, the less leverage. I would recommend these to regularly maintain the bathtub so you don’t have to scrub too hard to clean each time. Some people use a mop to clean the tub but these devices tend to be lighter than mops.
Lastly, be kind to your body and yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself just because it’s taking you longer to do something. It’s about savouring the moment anyways. Take it slow and enjoy!