Handle with care

Lifting or restraining babies and toddlers can result in injury, writes Helen O’Callaghan.

SHE does it every day — holds a baby on her hip with one hand and cleans the counter-top or stirs a saucepan with the other.

Over time, this postural change can lead to pain and muscle spasm in the lower back or gluteal muscles. If you add to this a second child — a two-year-old pleading to be lifted too — the multi-tasking mum creates even more problems for herself.

“Parents don’t see a two-stone toddler as weight but if you asked them to pick up two bags of potatoes they’d think about it,” says chartered physiotherapist Adeline O’Dowd. “A child will often put their arms around their parent’s neck to assist in lifting them — so you’ve got two stone being lifted by a neck. This leads to neck and upper thoracic spine injuries.”

As parents, our priority is to protect our kids but we forget small children can inadvertently injure us. Often parents don’t even realise the source of the injury. “They often don’t put it together until you ask them the right questions,” says O’Dowd.

A child’s tantrum — wriggling, thrashing about, kicking — is very likely to cause injury because parents react rapidly without thinking of physical consequences to themselves. “They might twist incorrectly in order to hold the child. Children move very fast when having a tantrum and parents try to adapt to the child’s sudden movements. You mainly see neck injuries if the child’s swinging out of the parent’s neck, as well as strained backs and over-stretched shoulders.”

O’Dowd saw one mum with damaged hand ligaments. She had been trying to calm the child and he pulled her fingers backwards. O’Dowd has also seen deep bruising from kicking.

Twisting while lifting small children in and out of car seats or leaning in over a cot to settle or lift out baby are other scenarios ripe for causing injury. “Parents can overstretch their back and can cause inflammation and muscle spasm.”

Parents need to take care if changing nappies on a bed. “You’re in sustained flexion of the lumbar spine, which could lead to sudden onset of severe back pain,” says O’Dowd, who advises kneeling at the bedside.

“You also see ankle and knee sprains and wrist pain from falls and tripping over toys or carrying children up and down stairs,” she says, citing two groups at special risk when minding small kids — parents of children with special needs and grandparents in general.

TIPS

¦ Get enough sleep — tiredness reduces motor skills and reaction times.

¦ Be aware of lifting habits — bend knees and engage your deep core stabilisers prior to lifting.

¦ Maintain a safe environment.

¦ Don’t underestimate child’s weight.


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