How to Pick Up Your Kids

How to Pick Up Your Kids Without Tweaking Your Back

You come home from work, your son is playing and sees you walk through the door. His eyes light up and he runs towards you. You pick him up and… there’s that pain in your back again.

Dad duties can put a bigger strain on your body, and be even more painful than debating when your child’s last bath was. As a physio, one of the biggest problems my patients have is picking up their little bundle of energy without hurting their back. You’ve probably heard the adage “lift with your knees, not your back” and it’s mostly true. You don’t want to lift with your back but depending on the size of your child, you may want to lift with your hips and not your knees.

As a general rule, if your kid’s armpits are higher than your knees then I recommend bending at the hips. This means to move your hips backwards like you’re going to tap an imaginary wall behind you while letting your knees bend. You may feel a little stretch in the back of your legs while you move your hips. This is called a hip hinge. You’ll want to lightly tense your abs like you’re going to let your kid punch your stomach while you’re getting use to this.  

If your kid’s armpits are higher than your knees then I recommend bending at the hips.

If your kid’s armpits are shorter than your knees then I’d say to bend at the knees to help you get lower. Just make sure your knees aren’t coming forward as you squat down. Again, you’ll want to tense your abs slightly for this until it becomes more natural.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to pick kids up is to have them climb up on the couch or a chair so you don’t have to bend down as far.  Playing “Rocket Ship” (complete with sound effects) is a great way to get them to hop up.

A note on car seats: In general, you want to be squared up with the car as much as possible and limit twisting your body. While you’re strapping them in, you can take some stress off your back by resting one leg on the car. 

Raising kids is stressful enough without having back pain and while getting your kids to agree on something may be more painful, the last thing you want is to miss playing with trains because you can’t get off the ground.

Carl Wharam is a Chicago-based physiotherapist and donut connoisseur who doubles as a human jungle gym.

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  1. Hamilton

    Love it! The kids here are right at that age where they’re about to grow out of being picked up. I’m going to miss it!
    I noticed that after babywearing each kid in a Moby wrap, my knees were wrecked for about 6 months per kid. They got better each time, but I always wondered if there was a way to avoid the pain in the first place?


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