Did you know that more than 63 million US households are dog-owning? That means that just under half of the households in the US are occupied with a dog. And for many of these, myself included, have more than one dog in the home. Whether you own a dog or not, everyone knows dogs are hard work — feeding, bathroom breaks, grooming, and playing all equal up to very important jobs while owning a dog. But have you ever thought how hard it could be to take care of your dog while dealing with back pain? Here is my advice on five very important topics to keep you from hurting your back while taking care of your dog!
On average, dog owners walk their dogs for almost 9 hours a week. This can be very hard on your ailed back if you have a dog that likes to be very friendly with everyone they pass, loves to chase squirrels, or who keeps their nose down and stop
s at everything they smell. All of these actions can cause very negative reactions to your back. The twisting, turning, and sudden jerking can cause your spine to overextend and cause injury to yourself. By keeping your dog on a shorter leash, and using treats to keep their attention, you can mitigate their distractions and thus help you from further tweaking your back.
Dogs need physical activity, and most receive that through playing with their owner. Whether it’d be playing fetch, frisbee, or tug-of-war, we all enjoy seeing our dogs having fun and getting their energy out. But when you have back pain, the playing can get cut short when the pain escalates. To avoid this from happening, you need to evaluate what activities your dog likes to do best and see how you can modify the way you play with your dog. For example, one of my dogs loves to play fetch. I got a ‘chuck-it’ for throwing the ball long distances because it is better for your back than throwing the ball out of your hand. If your dog likes to catch a frisbee, look for a lightweight option like a zing ring or nylon frisbee so that it’s less resistant to your body when throwing. And when it comes to tug-of-war, the length of the toy, the slack is given, and the control you have of the toy all matter. A shorter toy that is tauter between you and the dog allows you to be in more control. You also want to make sure your body is staying in front of your dog to avoid torquing or over twisting your back. And remember to use your arm muscles to stay in control so you can use less of your back to gain control.
Most puppies don’t stay small for long, and many dogs need a helping hand when it comes to getting into cars and up onto different surfaces. While the majority of dogs don’t need assistance daily, the idea of having to pick up your furry friend can be worrisome when you have back problems. Because dogs can be unpredictable with their movements and awkward to lift, there is always a possibility that picking up your dog could cause a flare-up or further injury to your back. If you must pick up your dog, make sure to evenly distribute their weight by either lifting
them from under their belly or carrying them across your body with both arms. Try to not pick them up when they are overstimulated or excited, as this will cause them to be more restless and squirming in your arms. And make sure to bend at your hips while lifting with your knees, not your back, when lifting your dog and putting them down. If you’re trying to avoid lifting your dog altogether, there are stairs and ramps out there that are designed for getting dogs into cars, onto beds, and up the stairs when needed.
For those with either a large dog or multiple dogs, you know how large and heavy dog food bags can get. To avoid lifting a heavy bag multiple times, it’s best to get your dog food delivered to your house and let someone else do most o
f the lifting. If that’s not an option for you, just make sure that when lifting the bag you keep your back straight, and use your legs to lift the bag; not your back. You’ll also want to do the same technique of lifting if you pour your dog food into a different container once it’s at your house.
With most dogs being lower than waist-level to the ground, a lot of bending is involved when bathing or grooming your dog. Going the professional route is ideal for people with back pain, but there’s always going to be those times where your dog needs a quick rinse or brushing. When those come up, a great option is finding a self-serve location that has raised bathing stations. Most pet stores that are fitted with these have already thought through how hard bathing a dog can be on your back, and some even have different bath heights to accommodate different dog sizes. If you aren’t able to go to a self-serve location and bathing them at home is your only option — make sure you have a bench, chair, or stool to sit on while you attend to your dog. This will allow you to get on their level, and puts less strain on your back by limiting the large amounts of bending over. With either self-serve or at home, make sure you bend at your hips and keep your back straight when bathing or grooming your dog.
We all know that dog owners would do anything for their dogs, but that devotion gets tested once you have back pain. Your time spent playing and taking care of them starts to become a struggle when the pain gets worse. But by proactively using the tips I’ve provided, you can keep back pain at bay while taking care of your four-legged friends. And if something happens — like a walk gone wrong, or you accidentally picked up a bag of food too heavy, and you find yourself in pain — make sure you call us at Virginia Spine Institute to schedule a consultation. We can get you pain-free, and back to loving your active life with your furry best friend.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.