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Ouch! Sewing is Hurting My Back

lbjhanna's picture

Hi Everyone, I'm new to the group and need some help. I love to sew and quilt but am have a painful back problem and am discovering that sewing is not helping it. I don't know what I would do if I can't sew/quilt anymore. Has anyone out there have any solutions?

ThreadKoe's picture

(post #23992, reply #23 of 46)

I am pretty positive that mine were the generic type also. I didn't care, I had a pretty doll with clothes my Mom had made to play with. The few outfits that were bought, probably came with her, fell apart quickly, but I still have the ones that my Mom made. They even stood up to the rigors of my 3 playing with them also! I added a few to the pile as well... :) Cathy

MaryinColorado's picture

(post #23992, reply #26 of 46)

My younger brother still scolds me about those GI Joe's.  He always new where to find them!  Out on dates with Barbie, they loved to dance.  Ken was usually forgotten, I think he spent all of his time sitting in a chair reading the paper!  Joe and Barbie had a blast in his Jeep and like yours, in the Tonka Trucks! 

My daughter did the same with her little brother's GI Joes so history repeated itself.  My grand daughter collected Barbies, but always preferred to play with baby dolls.  Her brothers never got into the GI Joe's.  Now it's all about sports equipment, music, and electronics for all 3 of them. 

Sancin's picture

(post #23992, reply #27 of 46)

I have terrible back problems (disk degeneration) in all parts of my back including compression fractures from osteoporosis. I have tried all the suggestions here and they all more or less work, the best being to get up and move frequently, difficult for me as I tend to concentrate intensely on whatever I am doing and lose track of time. I admit I don't do the sewing and quilting I want to because of pain, but I do persist.

One thing I found helpful was a foot stool. I have secretary slanted stools under both my sewing machine and my computer. The one under my sewing machine is carpeted and I have put pieces of rough velcro on my foot control. The angle my foot is affects the pressure on my back, something I learned from driving. The sewing machine stool was an expensive, though worth it, purchase and the angle can be adjusted. Having my feet/foot on an angle seems to force me sit back in my chair and sit up straight. The stool also helps when my knees or ankles are acting up. For me, one of the problems of sitting up straight is my eyesight. If it's not one thing it's another!!

I am quite short and shrinking and have found that the depth and height of my chair is important and took some experimenting to find the right one with the right front 'lip'. I also use several types of cushions, one with a cut away at the back meant for protecting the back when driving and the more recent one a memory foam pillow meant for back or seat. I alternate using one or the other, or neither. I have a special back support for chairs but find it takes up too much room and restricts my motion. I recently found a small mesh on a wire back support but haven't used it too much to say how it works - it was cheap and found at a home show booth that sold lots of products from China (of course).

One thing I did try was a 'thingy' I purchased from a catalog (Clotilde?) that is like a back pack with adjustable straps and a little sand bag the height of which could be adjusted to where one's back hurt. It was TERRIBLE - just putting it on caused considerable pain. I wonder if others have tried anything like this.

Meditative breathing occasionally or regularly also helps me.

Isn't life fun in the fast lane!?

ohiostar's picture

(post #23992, reply #28 of 46)

I agree with you. Since all of who have back pain have various reasons for our back pain, we all have to have different methods of keeping ourselves comfortable while working at what we love. There was a time when I set my machine up to do piecing and free motion quilting standing up with one foot raised while using the foot pedal. I learned how to use both feet equally. Got to keep sewing. When I got a quilting machine, I found that exercise and muscle strengthening to keep my core muscles supporting me while my arms were raised. I got trifocals rather than bifocals so that I didn't have to bend my back and neck to see in the "middle" area of my vision range. (4 bone spurs there). I find that the 6 bone spurs in the bra line area are the worst. When they hurt, I want to give up, lump myself into a chair and stare into space. I must take medication for that and make sure that I have on a well fitting bra as it keeps me from hunching up my shoulders and rounding my back. Lastly, my sitdown area is part genetics and part living. One C-section, three children, bowed legs, sway back and several prat falls have combined to make sitting and sleeping for too long painful, and the hips scream. Again medication, movement and strengthening exercises and scattering my work helps a immensely. It has been7 -8 years of learning what works and putting it into practice. I am a happy camper most days and most people do not know I have such pain. For me, not sewing is more painful than my back. I loved the fast lane, but I am happy in the middle lanes as I still get to travel!

jann It is not about Patience or Perfection, but Persistence.
Oraya's picture

(post #23992, reply #40 of 46)

Back problems are an increasingly common problem - if your sewing machine stool chair is too high you naturally round over to be able to see what you are of the best solutions I have found is to get a simple office chair with a hydraulic lift/drop feature. Try to find one with the biggest height difference possible. At my sewing machine I drop it to the bottom, my eyes (just above needle height) and my back are comfortable (no more slouching to see) and then a simple touch to the lever and it is back into top position to be comfortable at my extra high sewing table (ikea table top on adjustable legs) of all, none of this costs a fortune and the office chair is made to be ergonomic. Generally they tilt as well so every few minutes you can lean back, take a deep breath and have a good stretch and you are ready to go again! Happy, comfortable sewing everyone!

Palady's picture

(post #23992, reply #41 of 46)

On this subject - a thought to consider.  MO of ocurse.  Though there's been commentary from notable sources unavaialble to me at the moment.

 Unless there's an undrlying circusmtance, "hurts" are our bodies way of telling us there's a stress in our lives that is being masked, but is presenting in this manner.  Addressing it is a huge challenge.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances.  Overall contempaltive introspection is a behavior that requires a varying degree of effort.

Agreed.  Exercises matter because in the doing endophines, and other brain chemicals, are released.  It's these rascals that are helpful in addressing the issue.

And then too, "hurts" are a way for us to back-off of and take the time to look within ourselves.


Sancin's picture

(post #23992, reply #42 of 46)

Well said, Palady.

Doing pleasurable things, like sewing, also release endorphins. Of course the biggest problem is finding balance and finding balance in life seems to be a big issue for many of us!

What does MO mean? I am assuming it is some sort of meditation or reflection. I know these sort of activities are very very helpful. AND required practice and effort.

KharminJ's picture

(post #23992, reply #45 of 46)

Let's hear it for "finding balance"!!

~ MO, in this context, means "My Opinion". I've also seen people use IMHO - In My Humble (facetious or not) Opinion, and IMO - "In My Opinion".

The chant or meditation your thinking of is "OM" - a Sanskrit word that signifies the basic Sound of the Universe. Saying it aloud, and holding the "long O-mmmmm" for as long as you can, helps bring you into tune with the Cosmos. The only effort really required is to Remember to do it.

Bright Blessings to us all, in the never-ending quest for Balance! Kharmin

Palady's picture

(post #23992, reply #46 of 46)

MO = My Opinion. 

You are correct.  Pleasurable activity does indeed release endorphines.  unless there are unrecognizeds. 

Sewing is in the pleasure category for those of us who enjoy it.  Since body mechanics factor in the equation as well, motion during sewing matters as members have suggested.

I posted the thought of unrecognize stresses because, despite body mechanics, "hurts" manifest themsleves in a variety of ways. 


Ceeayche's picture

(post #23992, reply #17 of 46)

Applying ergonomic principles to my sewing space has dramatically decreased my back problems.  I moved my sewing table up to the correct height and swapped out my chair for an ergonomic office chair I got at the county overstock store for pennies.  Improving the lighting and getting the correct glasses also helped because I stopped bending in to see. Adding a foot stool has helped with lower back pain and some lower leg circulation issues. 

A happy accident with my dressmaker dummy has also helped.  Some how one of the parts to the stand was damaged during a move, so I had to sit it on a table top to use it.  While "suffering through" this temporary problem, I learned that as long as I wasn't fitting the hem, elevating it saved my back while I fitted things like the bodice and waste.  So, an old salvaged end table lifts it up nicely and I just adjust the height of the stand downward a little.

Finally, I also have learned to stay hydrated.  So I keep a glass of ice water in the room.  The trick is that it's always across the room in my reading nook, never on the cutting table, never near the sewing machines.  This does a couple of things: I reward myself with little breaks at the end of a process.  I get up and walk over to the drink. I have also disciplined myself to go get refills as soon as it's empty.  This requires a trek for two flights of stairs.

Greet each day with Joy.  Embrace your blessings.

Greet each day with Joy.  Embrace your blessings.

ThreadKoe's picture

(post #23992, reply #19 of 46)

Seems that the consensus is the same advice I would have given you. Move often, take breaks, stretch, drink plenty of water, make sure your equipment is at a proper height for you, and sew in short spans not marathon sessions. The only thing I can see missing is do not get uptight about your sewing, and OOPS, that has been covered too!
I can tell you a few things NOT to do. Do not sew when you are tired or hurting alot already. It makes it worse. Putter around in your studio/sewing room instead. It will make you feel happier and feel better without stressing your back. Do not look at your sewing as a source of pain, but as a source of pain relief! Happiness and joy are natural endorphins, and actually make you feel better, so make your sewing time, happy time. Quit when it starts to stress, and go back to it later. Cathy

cookingsharp's picture

(post #23992, reply #34 of 46)

I've had good results from one of those big massager mats you put in the chair. You can set it to vibrate on whatever area you want. I was having a lot of trouble with my feet swelling, and having it vibrate under my seat really improved that. You can also set it to heat, that can help with pain.

dnjmama's picture

(post #23992, reply #24 of 46)

I didn't see this tip in the earlier comments, so allow me to share it with y'all, BUT, DO start with your chair 1st--it makes SO much difference to have (1)a supported back and (2) to have your seat height at the right level!.  Opt for arms on the chair if you can, as that helps support your body as you do a little hand sewing/tacking/etcetera. After that, you can try this little but very helpful trick:

Note:  I gleaned this from a book about sewing machines--not about sewing (can't recall title):

Tilt your sewing machine towards you slightly.  You can do this by taking 2 of those rubber wedge type of doorstops and placing them under the machine--the rubber texture prevents your machine from sliding off, and using 2 versus 1 keeps the machine stable. 

Having the machine at an angle allows you to sit straighter and still see everything.  With the machine bed at 90 degrees to you (as it normally is) you bend your head and incline your shoulders and upper back, thus putting stress on your body.  This way (machine tilted instead of you tilting), you are comfortable sewing and keep your back at a better angle, and things are more visible too! 

You can try this trick out by just rolling a bath towel and adjusting the size of the roll to "try it out" before you track down the doorstops (found mine at the local office suppy store).  By placing the roll/doorstops closer to the back side of the machine you can adjust things till you get the right angle.  My machine is "up" about 1-1/2 inch or about 3+ cm along the back edge.  For me, it was worth unscrewing my machine from its table for this--that's how much difference it made for this veteran of back surgery!

Good Luck!

ThreadKoe's picture

(post #23992, reply #25 of 46)

Thank you for reminding me! I had read this somewhere also, but had forgotten. I never had back problems until this spring, and I sympathize dearly for those with chronic problems. Cathy

sheilag's picture

(post #23992, reply #43 of 46)

Yes, but you may not like this.

Exercise exercise exercise.

Lower back pain is often just weak muscles.  Yes I know about the possible problems of our vertebrae, but those too can be helped by strengthening the muscles that support them.  It's very common with those of us who sit at our machines.

Hope this helps


MarikaD's picture

(post #23992, reply #44 of 46)

 Even when there are underlying problems -  perhaps exercise can help.

I have degenerative problems - my niece has congenital problems.  My niece who is a highschool art teacher, artist and sculptor was forced to retire and advised she could never carry a child.

She had tried lots of different things, doctors and specialists but after going to the back clinic that now teaches the same exercises that I do she is back teaching and the mother of a 10 month old

I was told that if the muscles can be built up and kept strong that they can compensate for other weaknesses.  It is always good to see a dr or phsyio every few years as they are always coming up with new things.

My exercises are very similar to the pelvic floor exercise.  Can be done while sewing.