You’ve no doubt heard of tendonitis, tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome. Known medically as repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) because they’re often caused by the repetitive use of certain parts of the body, these conditions cover a wide range of painful and/or uncomfortable ailments of the muscles, tendons, nerves and other soft tissues.
They’re also often associated with an occupation or some type of recreational activity, such as tennis or golf. And then there’s parenting.
Mothers and fathers throughout the world will contend that the repetitive lifting, holding, carrying and rocking of their babies and toddlers earned them the right to name their own ailment – call it “Bundle-itis of Joy Syndrome,” perhaps. But while other RSIs are specific to a particular part of the body, repetitive motions related to parenting commonly cause aches, pains and discomfort in several upper-body locations such as the back, neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists.
“I’m constantly treating moms who are suffering from repetitive-stress injuries that result from the wear and tear of being a parent,” said Peggy Brill, a New York City physical therapist (PT) and author of the book “The Core Program.”
The culprit in many cases, according to Brill and Mary Ellen Modica, a PT at Schwab STEPS Rehabilitation in Chicago, is the chronic use of poor posture while performing everyday parenting tasks like lifting and carrying a baby, picking up toys from the floor, pushing a stroller and lugging around an infant car seat.
“Carrying an infant car seat on your arm is the equivalent to walking around with three or four full paint cans in one hand, something most people wouldn’t do, but yet, they’ll carry a car seat that way,” Modica said.
Such awkward and stressful postures can lead to tenderness, pain, throbbing and tingling in muscles and joints, all common signs of RSI, according to Medical News Today.
These ailments, however, can be avoided by simply being mindful of the body while performing these common parenting feats. PTs Brill and Modica, along with their physical therapist colleagues with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), offer the following tips for maintain good posture and avoiding repetitive stress injuries while parenting or babysitting:
Lifting Baby from the Crib: Don’t reach and hold your baby at arm’s length as this places a tremendous amount of 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. Lower and lift with the legs with your back arched.
Lifting Your Child from the Floor: Use what’s called the half-kneel lift for optimal posture. Standing close to your child, back straight, step forward with one foot and lower yourself to one knee. Keeping the child close to your body, grab him or her with both arms 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 lug it around on your forearm like you would a purse or handbag. This can put unneeded stress on the back, shoulder and your arm. To avoid this, carry the seat by the handle with both hands, elbows bent, holding it in front of your body with weight evenly distributed.
According to Brill, strong abdominal, back, pelvic and hip muscles can reduce a parent or caretaker’s risk of developing RSIs. Talk to your physician about strategies for strengthening these muscle groups, or contact a physical therapist directly to develop a customized resistance-training regimen designed to address your personal strength deficiencies.