This episode is entitled “How to get dressed with back pain / sciatica?”. You will learn:

  • Why socks are such a nightmare when you get dressed with back pain / sciatica
  • That warming-up to get dressed isn’t as crazy as it might sound
  • The power of bracing to get dressed with back pain / sciatica

Let’s start with the underwear. When getting dressed with back pain / sciatica, putting underwear on requires a degree of balancing.  Are you going to do it standing up or sitting down? Can your back cope with sitting on the edge of the bed, first thing in the morning? It’s all a bit fraught with uncertainty, isn’t it?

Get dressed lying down

It’s important that you don’t fall over, especially if you’re over 60 and your lower back / sciatica is sore. So, whatever position you choose to get your underwear and socks on, make sure you’re stable. For most of us it’s sitting, but it can be challenging and not the best choice when you have back pain / sciatica. In fact, you may need to get dressed lying down, as bizarre as that may sound. It reminds me of growing up and visiting my grandparents in Banff in the North of Scotland. The house was really cold in the morning, so you would get dressed still in bed.

You can do it. Everything is more difficult if you’re in pain, but it’s a question of trying to find the position that is least painful for you, first thing in the morning, so lying down may be the best option. Make sure the night before that you have your clothes lying next to the bed, so that you don’t have to get up, go across to the other side of the room, pick them up, get back into bed and lie back down again, particularly if you’re getting sudden spasms of pain. I’m not going to tell you exactly how to get your pants on when lying down, but you can imagine that doing it in an aligned position may put less strain on your lower back, so I would highly recommend trying this approach.

Why socks are a nightmare when you get dressed with back pain / sciatica

Your feet are further from you, you have to bend forwards to get to them, and for many people with lower back pain / sciatica, bending forwards makes it worse. First thing in the morning, you tend to be pretty stiff. If there’s any degree of inflammation involved in your problem, lower back area, disc, and so on, that inflammation builds up overnight, so these things are often worse in the morning. Any degree of bending forwards can be extremely painful. If you do have a disc problem, particularly disc bulges, disc herniations, they absorbe fluid overnight and so they tend to be biggest in the morning. That’s why sciatic pains if they’re disc related are often worst first thing in the morning and therefore, bending forwards is just not a good idea. This brings us to warming up.

Warming up to get dressed isn’t as crazy as it might sound

Maybe you should defer getting dressed until you are sufficiently warmed up. Getting dressed first thing on waking might just not a good idea for people with back pain / sciatica. Remember: “use it, but don’t abuse it”. You’re going to need to put your clothes on to face the world, but doing so straight up on waking is not sensible. Wait until you’ve been up and moving around for half an hour before actually getting dressed. That’s what I call warming up to get dressed. I don’t specifically mean doing any particular exercises, just waiting until the pain has settled down a little bit, and you’re more mobile and functional before you try to get dressed. So warming up might sound crazy for getting dressed, but in fact it may be exactly what your back needs.

The power of bracing to get dressed with back pain / sciatica

We’ve covered this before in previous episodes. Bracing refers to just lightly tightening your abdominal muscles. Maybe this is less pertinent for Sciatica, but it’s worth trying. With lower back problems, in a sense there’s an instability. Your body just doesn’t like movement, particularly first thing in the morning. So just lightly brace your abdominal muscles. Imagine a small child’s going to punch you in the stomach and you just have to tighten up. It should be tight like a drum. So you tighten up before you initiate the movement, whether that be stooping forward to get your socks on or pulling your pants up. Whatever it may be, just lightly brace, and that helps to stabilize the lower back area.

Another thing you can do is pull your shoulder blades down your back. Again, that assists in this bracing maneuver. So tighten the belly muscles, pull the shoulder blades down your back before trying to do whatever action it is that you’re doing, and that will help to stabilize and reduce pain. Bracing is particularly pertinent turning over in bed and getting up. In fact, in episode 10, immediately previous to this one, I talk about how to get up from a sitting position, and I talk about bracing again.

Remember you can get a free assessment for lower back pain / sciatica