Struggling with Back Pain: Planning some DIY?

Have you tweaked your back or are you struggling with aches or pain after doing some DIY projects over the last couple weeks?  COVID-19 has given most of us extra time at home, and with limited options of things to do, many have been doing home projects.

Sometimes, as in my case, this ends up being longer and more intense than we plan on.  This overload in muscles can cause soreness and pain, and this may linger.


Over the past month, my daughter and I have been building a stream in our backyard.  When we moved into our home, we had a dry river bed in our backyard.  I thought it would be nice to have water actually flowing instead of it being dry.  Easy enough, right? Well……..

As we got into the project, it became more and more apparent to me that this project was going to be significantly bigger and take quite a bit more time than I had anticipated.  Don’t get me wrong, it was going to be epic, but way more work than I thought.

We began digging and hauling out the dirt.  We then had to move boulders and rocks and lay down liner and gather more rocks.

Well, about a week into the project, my back started to get sore.  It wasn’t a huge surprise…I was lifting rocks and boulders, but it wasn’t quite going away.

My Back Pain

Then, one specific day, I was moving some rocks and sod, and I felt something give out in my low back.  Did I stop? Of course not!  I had a project in the works.  I finished what I was doing and went inside.  After sitting down watching a random show on Netflix, I stood up and found I wasn’t standing as straight as I once was.

Dionne, my wife, is a Massage Therapist and she offered to work on my back for a minute.  It felt great to get it worked on, but when I went to stand up, I couldn’t move!  I had seen this before….and I knew what I was in for.

Long story short, for the next 2 weeks, I dealt with stiffness and pain in the morning, difficulty putting on my shoes and socks, and pain with lifting anything.  All things that I hear my patients talk about all the time.

I had overdone it!  Strained the muscles in my back and they weren’t recovering like they used to.  If I had only listened to my PT brain and done a few specific things, it would have made a world of difference.

So, here are 4 things you can do to avoid a flare-up like I had while doing your honey-do list!

  1. Pace Yourself!

    Just like with anything else, you need to start something your body is not used to gradually.  Whether that is running or rock climbing, it is the same.

    For example, in my situation, I could have worked on the stream for 2 hours on the first Saturday, rather than the 8 hours I did.  This would have allowed time for my body to adapt to the new activity.

    Going gradually helps our bodies to build strength as well as heal those areas that are injured.  When the rate of injury is higher than the rate of tissue repair, that is when we see lasting problems.

  2. Take Breaks

    This goes along with #1 above, but it is a little more than just pacing yourself. Taking breaks means that you stop what you are doing and do something else.  Whether that is relaxing or just doing something like going for a walk, it is just important to change it up.

    Changing the activity helps to reduce the repetitive stress on the tissues you are using.  If you are pulling weeds in the garden, it gives your arms a rest while other areas of the body are used.

    There is nothing wrong with sitting in a lawn chair with a cold drink for this break time.  Just make sure that is not all you do!

  3. Strengthen and Stretch

    In sports we might call this cross training. In yard work and projects around the home, we could still call this cross training I guess.

    I find myself sometimes saying something like, “Lifting the rocks is like I am lifting weights and strengthening, so why do extra things?”.  Well, you can see how well that worked for me.

    The problem is that when we are doing repetitive activities, we need to address the weakness and tightness in the areas away from what we are working.  Those areas can still cause problems and may be causing imbalance in the body that leads to pain.

    Doing some stretches for the hamstrings, pecs, hip flexors, all could have been helpful for me and are common areas of tightness.  If you would like more ideas on stretching, check out our Youtube Channel

    Doing exercise and stretching can help to avoid problems in the future.  If you need help with this, we would love to help you out! Just CLICK HERE to learn more.

  4. Get Help Early On

    If you are feeling aches or pains that are not going away with rest, you probably want to address it sooner rather than later. This doesn’t mean every ache or pain, but just those that are either limiting what you can do, or aren’t changing, or even getting worse.

    If you are like me though, I tend to just think it will go away as my body “gets used to” whatever activity I am doing.  Yes, I am a horrible patient!  This may have worked when I was 17, but now that philosophy isn’t quite appropriate.

    Treatment like ice and heat, specific stretches, manual therapy, specific exercises, etc….can all be helpful to get you back to doing what you want to do.  The problem? These need to be tailored specific to your problem.

    Sure, you can find many things on Youtube that can help, but you will also find just as much, if not more, that is totally wrong.  How do you sort it out?  We can help you with that.


Just a few other ideas to help (especially if building a stream!).

Use machines instead of your back.  If you are lifting boulders, use pulleys or jacks to help.  Those machines may even include neighbors or family members that can help you lift.

Don’t do things you know you are going to pay for.  In my case, this was knowing that I have a history of wrist tendinitis.  If I do too much gripping and pulling, my wrist starts to ache and affects my work.  Sure enough, I pushed it past what I knew I should do.

Go Easy!  I am a project guy.  It drives my wife crazy sometimes, but I always have something I am working on.  With the COVID-19 hiatus we have had from social activities, I figured no time like the present to knock out ALL of my projects.   Yeah….I should have spread them out.

Good luck in your DIY list!  I think doing projects is great, but don’t follow my example with not listening to your body.

If you get in a situation where your back is locked up, or you are having headaches, or something else limiting your life, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  There are MANY things we can do to help return you back to what you love to do.

Be Safe out there and Stay Healthy!   We are open during this crazy COVID time and here to help you meet your goals.

Feel free to email me with questions!

David Butler, Physical Therapist

Who We Help At Align Therapy

At Align Therapy, we understand that every single person’s problem is unique, which is why our first step is to get a deep understanding of what is happening to your body, and how it is effecting your life so we can create a plan that focuses on YOU and your goals.
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David Butler PT DPT

David Butler

Align Therapy

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