At the first of the year, we see a lot of patients with back pain. Many of these are parents who were on their feet a lot during the holidays--shopping and running errands--while lugging babies and toddlers in backpacks and lifting them in and out of car seats. The good news is that most cases of back pain caused by improper lifting, bending, and twisting will resolve by themselves after three to five days.

Nevertheless, if you're the parent of young children, you have enough strain without adding a backache to your list of troubles. You take excellent care of your children, but most parents have a superhero attitude about themselves and think they are immune to injury. Here are some back pain prevention tips for parents that will help you avoid unnecessary discomfort:

• Hugging helps. When lifting a child out of a car seat, hug her close to your body, then lift.

• Use your legs. When lifting a child from the floor to a high chair, squat down and use your leg muscles--not your back muscles--to stand up. Incidentally, this is great exercise for your buttocks, thighs, and abs.

• Buy a quality baby carrier. There are lots of good baby carriers out there specially designed to ease pressure on the parent's shoulders and back. Purchase a good one and above all, read the instructions and wear it properly to minimize back strain. Fasten all belts and straps tightly, and adjust them to your body's size.

• Don't arch. It's common for people with front baby carriers or carrying large loads--such as a sack of groceries--to arch your back. This shifts all the pressure to your lower back and may cause a strain. Instead, straighten your back and use your stomach muscles.

• Babies, then luggage. Don't try to walk into Grandma's house with the baby in one arm and shopping bags filled with presents in another. Trying to carry too much at once--and having the loads not equally distributed--is a quick way to throw out your back.

• Anticipate pain. If you're getting ready to go sledding or skating with your kids--and you remember how sore you were last year when you did this--take an anti-inflammatory (aspirin, Motrin, or Aleve) before you enjoy outdoor exercise and playful activities.

• Unload the trunk wisely. When unloading a trunk filled with suitcases or gear, place your foot on the bumper of your car for support if the bumper is not too high. Store items in the trunk close to the bumper, if possible. Lift items onto the car frame first and then lift them from the car frame to your arms. If you must reach something located deep inside the trunk, brace yourself on the car with one arm while reaching.

• Get lots of sleep. Parenting can take a lot out of you. Try to get good quality sleep by sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees for maximum back support. Sleeping on your stomach or back will only exacerbate back pain.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Gokaslan is the director of the Neurosurgical Spine Program and vice chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University, where he is also the Donlin M. Long Professor and a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, and orthopedic surgery. Dr. Riley is director of the Orthopedic Spine Division and associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University. They are coauthors of The Back Book (Johns Hopkins University Press).