While injuries such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow — known as repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) — are often linked to an occupation or some type of sports or recreation activity, local physical therapist Mary Beth Ackerman, PT, points out that the physical rigors of parenting can often lead to a similar level of pain and discomfort.
The continual lifting, carrying, reaching and twisting so common to parents of babies and toddlers, Ackerman says, make moms and dads susceptible to suffering RSIs. True to the name, such injuries to the muscles, tendons and nerves are caused by the repetitive use of specific parts of the body to perform tasks, often in sustained or awkward positions.
“It’s the wear and tear of being a parent,” said Ackerman, co-owner of PhysioCare Physical Therapy in Woodinville and Duvall. “Parents will hold, carry, rock and lift their babies dozens of times each day. No matter who you are, these repetitive motions performed daily for months on end can and will take a toll on your body.”
The chronic use of poor posture and mechanics while performing these everyday parenting tasks only serves to compound the problem.
“Performing these tasks awkwardly can put the body under unnecessary stress, leading to pain, tenderness, throbbing and tingling in the muscles and joints – all common symptoms of repetitive strain injuries,” Ackerman said.
Ackerman offers the following tips for maintaining good posture and avoiding repetitive strain injuries while parenting or babysitting, based on guidelines provided by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA):
Lifting Baby from the Crib: Don’t reach and hold your baby away from your body as this places pressure on the back. Instead, lower the crib railing to its lowest setting, set your feet shoulder-width apart and bring your baby close to your body before lifting. Your back arched, lower and lift with the legs.
Lifting Your Child from the Floor: Standing close to your child, back straight, step forward with one foot and lower yourself to one knee. Grab your child with both arms, holding him/her close to your body, and lift with your legs. Reverse these steps when setting the child down to the floor.
Carrying Your Toddler: Don’t hold the child with one arm and/or balanced on your hip. This can strain your back and the ligaments on one side of the body. Instead, hold him or her close to your chest, legs wrapped around your waist, balanced in the center of your body.
Lugging Around that Infant Car Seat: Never carry the car seat to one side of your body or around your forearm like you would carry a purse or handbag. This can put stress on the back, shoulder and arm. Instead, carry the seat by the handle with both hands, elbows bent, holding it in front of your body with its weight evenly distributed.
According to Ackerman, strong abdominal, back, pelvic and hip muscles can reduce a parent or caretaker’s risk of developing RSIs. The physical therapy team at PhysioCare Physical Therapy can provide customized strategies for strengthening these muscle groups, along with assessing and treating your current musculoskeletal aches, pains and injuries.