General Question

timtrueman's avatar

Why does my back hurt when doing the dishes? How can I alleviate it?

Asked by timtrueman (5744points) January 21st, 2010

The longer I do the dishes the more it hurts. Why is that? What can I do to avoid this problem although (if anything)? Can I work out some muscles to make it less problematic? Is there some sort of adjustment or posture that would make this activity better for me?

Has this happened to you?

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39 Answers

poisonedantidote's avatar

are you hunched over the sink while you do it? it could just be standing in a funny position while holding a little weight for a relatively long period of time.

consult a doctor

shilolo's avatar

Option A: find someone else to do the dishes…. (I have two suggestions for you: I’ve heard they’re as good at dishes as they are at website design.)
Option B: get a dishwasher compatible place.
Option C: you might need to adjust your position so as to not lean over as much.

timtrueman's avatar

I’m tall and the sink’s probably too low, I have to lean over a bit. This has been a problem for me on every sink I’ve washed dishes at…

Snarp's avatar

Because counters and sinks are too low for anyone taller than the “average” woman to work at.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@timtrueman im 6ft 6in, if you are anything near my height i would say its leaning over too much for sure. its a pain i always get when hunched over for any period of time.

try getting a bar stool maybe? my back never hurts when im hunched up at the pc.

lilikoi's avatar

You probably want to consult with your doctor first. If you hunch over the sink, that would explain things… Sinks are installed at standard heights so it is not surprising that you have the same experience at every sink… I have found that I am more prone to back aches and aches in general when I am out of shape and do not exercise regularly. I’ve also found that the best back exercise is paddling. I do outrigger canoe paddling where I live, which may not exist where you live, but an alternative is rowing. Not rowing in the gym on a machine (although that might not hurt), but actual rowing in a boat with a team. Plus this may offer great views you’d never be able to experience otherwise.

@Snarp Wow, I find that sexist. My BF is 6’4” and has no problem washing dishes.

JLeslie's avatar

Upper back or lower? Exercising can strengthen the muscles. If you google back pain and exercises probably info will pop up. It also might have to do with standing on a hard floor, so buying one of those gel matts (they sell them at Bed Bath and Beyond) or a small carpet might help.

timtrueman's avatar

@JLeslie Lower back (very low)

sliceswiththings's avatar

I have this same problem. Height is definitely an issue, because I notice it sooner if I’m wearing tall shoes. I like the bar stool idea, I might try that as well.

lilikoi's avatar

If it is lower back, I wouldn’t expect it to be a result of hunching over….

Snarp's avatar

@lilikoi It isn’t me that’s sexist, it’s home builders. I’m not saying women should do the dishes, I’m saying that the people who decided how high kitchen counters should be thought that. Your boyfriend either just doesn’t like to complain or is young enough that it doesn’t hurt yet. I love to cook, I don’t mind doing the dishes aside from the back pain, and I even clean the house. I do more of all of these things than my wife. But women have been expected to do these things for so long that kitchen counters are too low, brooms, mops and vacuum cleaners are too short, for anyone my height to be the least bit comfortable using them. Even my wife agrees and has similar problems because she is much taller than the average woman.

JLeslie's avatar

@timtrueman OK, that is more likely not only the back muscles, but lack of strength in the stomach muscles. There are good exercises that might help, and they will protect you from injury, Also, the gel matt, maybe it is not just doing the dishes, but also the standing.

lilikoi's avatar

@JLeslie good answer. I was thinking that was it, but wasn’t sure.

Snarp's avatar

Also toilets and doorknobs are far too low.

Blondesjon's avatar

If you are standing on a hard surface, like most kitchen floors, it can be hard on your back. Try putting a thick rubber mat down and stand on that when you do the dishes. You could also try wearing thick soled shoes.

I learned this from a factory job I worked at. The floors were concrete and OSHA required we have rubber mats to stand on to alleviate the stress to our lower back.

lilikoi's avatar

@Snarp Okay apologies for the false accusation. It is not actually the builder’s fault but the architect if it isn’t done right. There are building codes that mandate where the sinks are mounted, and toilets, and doorknobs, too. It is true that one size does not fit all. My bf does complain that the bathroom sink is too low. We live in a house that was built in the 20s and the mounting heights were much different back then.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Try putting a short stool down and put one foot on it (about three to five inches). Also the suggestion of using a rubber mat mat may help.

timtrueman's avatar

@JLeslie I suspect you’re right, not to say anything else is wrong, what exercises would you recommend I look into? Can you steer me in the right direction?

Snarp's avatar

@lilikoi It’s a lot of people’s faults, really. Many modern homes on the mainland the architect is just the employee of the builder, and most of the time none of them make a decision on counter height, they just use the standard. I like to think of redoing my bathroom and my kitchen at a height that works for me (or at least my wife), but that can ruin your resale value. I figure I’ll give myself at least a couple of inches and hopefully no buyers will notice. Or maybe I’ll just sell to tall people.

Snarp's avatar

I’ve considered the mat approach myself, just to help my feet more than my back, but then I’m bending down another half inch at least.

lilikoi's avatar

@timtrueman I am liking this website that someone posted on Fluther recently. You will want to work your abs and obliques as well as your back muscles to keep everything balanced.

oratio's avatar

Make Andrew do it.

lilikoi's avatar

@Snarp lol sounds like a plan. probably a lot better than suffering with it. i thought by builder you meant construction team but i see that you mean the project owner / developer.

Snarp's avatar

@lilikoi Yeah, a lot of those companies call themselves “homebuilders”.

phoenyx's avatar


Put your food on a tortilla and then eat the tortilla when you’re done. That’s right: edible plates. Use breadbowls if you are doing something like soup. If you’re thirsty, just drink out of the jug of milk or the faucet. Try using chopsticks instead of utensils.

no dishes to clean == no backache


wilma's avatar

I have this problem too. There have been several good suggestions. The gel mat and the low stool like @Tropical_Willie said. Raising one foot just a few inches can take the pressure off your lower back.
When I redid my kitchen I raised the counter height a couple of inches. I figure the “average” height of the “average woman” has risen in the 100+ years since my house was built. I think it will actually help with the resale.

kidkosmik's avatar

Great suggestions. I am a mere 5’9 and experience the same lower back pain…

SeventhSense's avatar

The best suggestion. Simply raising one foot changes the angle and removes pressure from the back and puts it on the leg. Best to have just a short step though. One foot is too high.

And ditto for everyone who chimed in that the world is not made for taller people. Don’t even get me started on the height of toilets.

lonelydragon's avatar

It would make sense that if you bend over the sink, you’ll experience lower back pain. Also, standing on a linoleum floor for a long period of time can be hard on your legs and feet. I have actually taken to wearing house shoes (a pair of Crocs) when I do the dishes. You might want to try this, although you don’t have to wear Crocs. Keds or moccasins will do. As others have suggested, you should also maintain an exercise routine, and try to get plenty of calcium in your diet to strengthen your bones and muscles. I’ve noticed that I have fewer muscle aches if I get plenty of calcium.

timtrueman's avatar

@lonelydragon What things would you recommend to get calcium into my diet?

SeventhSense's avatar

In amount from greatest to least calcium in foods, but most back pain is muscular.
Still couldn’t hurt to get the RDA

Food Milligrams (mg) per serving Percent DV

Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 415 42
Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces 324 32
Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces 306 31
Milk, nonfat, 8 ounces 302 30
Milk, reduced-fat (2% milk fat), 8 ounces 297 30
Milk, lactose-reduced, 8 ounces** 285–302 29–30
Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 8 ounces 291 29
Milk, buttermilk, 8 ounces 285 29
Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces 275 28
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 ounces 245–384 25–38
Orange juice, calcium-fortified, 6 ounces 200–260 20–26
Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 204 20
Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 ounces 181 18
Pudding, chocolate, instant, made with 2% milk, ½ cup 153 15
Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup unpacked 138 14
Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 138 14
Spinach, cooked, ½ cup 120 12
Ready-to-eat cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100–1,000 10–100
Instant breakfast drink, various flavors and brands, powder prepared with water, 8 ounces 105–250 10–25
Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup 103 10
Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup 99 10
Kale, cooked, 1 cup 94 9
Kale, raw, 1 cup 90 9
Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup 85 8.5
Soy beverage, calcium-fortified, 8 ounces 80–500 8–50
Chinese cabbage, raw, 1 cup 74 7
Tortilla, corn, ready-to-bake/fry, 1 medium 42 4
Tortilla, flour, ready-to-bake/fry, one 6” diameter 37 4
Sour cream, reduced fat, cultured, 2 tablespoons 32 3
Bread, white, 1 ounce 31 3
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 21 2
Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice 20 2
Cheese, cream, regular, 1 tablespoon 12 1

casheroo's avatar

I’ve been having major issues with doing the dishes lately…but mine is my upper back, mainly my right shoulder. Ugh, it’s so painful :(
I keep my right arm held back sometimes…we have a dishwasher, but I prefer to handwash all the plastics.
You might be standing in a way that is painful. I don’t know what else it could be.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The counter and the sink are likely too low for you. Raise the dish or pot your working on to counter level. Take breaks to ease the strain on your back. Find a shorter person to wash the dishes!

augustlan's avatar

I have the same issues, and do agree that it’s because the counter/bottom of the sink is too low (I’m a tallish woman). Re: the step stool idea, the easiest way to raise one foot a couple of inches is to simply open the cabinet door under your sink and rest your foot on the bottom of the inner cabinet ‘floor’. I used to do that when I was pregnant, and it helped enormously. I’d forgotten all about that, and am so glad this thread reminded me!

wilma's avatar

Me too @augustlan , I still do that, I’m glad you mentioned it.

JLeslie's avatar

@timtrueman I injured my back many years ago and they gave me exercises, which I barely remember at this point. It involved simple stretches and other leg lifts. Your doctor might have a sheet with suggestions and diagrams, there are books written on back pain, I found this when I googled and there are some videos if you look through the web that might be helpful. I also agree with everyone above who said elevating one foot and then alternating will help.

john65pennington's avatar

You have read the rest, now here is the best. i have had four back surgeries and i have tried everything to help with my back pain. here is a tried and true solution: while washing the dishes over a sink, find something to raise on foot above the other. a stepstool is fine or a stack of telephone books will work. the object is to raise one side of your back muscle so the strain will be relieved. the same principle here is the same as in a bar, when you place one foot on the bar rail on the floor. it works, i promise. john

lonelydragon's avatar

@timtrueman Obviously, dairy products (if you’re not lactose-intolerant), but also green vegetables. If you don’t get enough of it in your diet, you can take supplements, but getting it from food is much better.

Aster's avatar

I have to find a stool and/or buy one of those rubber mats! Mine hurts , not from washing dishes but from washing heavy pans plus preparing the dishes for the DW.

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