We recently wrote about the benefits of exercise for a dad, even one who doesn’t plan on taking part in the office’s beefcake charity calendar. However, regular exercise won’t prevent child care from causing a physical breakdown. Whether it’s lifting kids from cribs, a tumble caused by a poorly-placed toddler, or an old injury coming back to haunt you, you will hurt. You might have even suffered the injury in an attempt to become healthier, the ultimate irony.
In any case, it’s time to take a step back.
When something hurts during an action, it’s your body’s way of saying, “Stop!”
This seems pretty basic, but that’s not how many people treat it.
Adding insult to injury
When you end up with pain caused by a specific incident, it may results in an acute injury. These are obvious things like a sprain, broken bone, or other clear injury. Such injuries sometimes call for trips to urgent care and are the result of falls, inattention, or bad luck. Other times it’s not an overt injury but death by a thousand paper cuts. Your back let you get away with bad form the first 100 times, but no more. Pain in either case is your body’s way of signaling you’ve gone too far and need to back off.
When the pain is due to exercise, you don’t have to stop completely. Some soreness is to be expected, especially after an intense workout. But if it continues for more than 48 hours, or isn’t getting better, there might be damage that needs time to heal. Another sign that you’re doing too much is when you hurt during the exercise. In that case, you need to stop. Either the motion or the body part is causing a problem, and continue will only cause more problems.
An old sport medicine mnemonic is RICE: Rest; Ice; Compression; Elevation. Many of us probably encountered it during varsity, little league, or even PE class. The idea has been around for a few decades, but doesn’t have a lot of evidence to support it. The doctor who came up with it argued a couple years ago that new evidence shows that it’s not a valid treatment plan. That isn’t to say that ice and rest aren’t valid, but each injury requires a more thorough evaluation. Ice in the first few hours may alleviate pain, but it won’t heal the injury.
Absolute rest is not advised after an injury, even a sprained ankle. Assuming there aren’t major structural issues, modified activity is the preferred route. If you insist on powering through a sore shoulder by taking maximum doses of Tylenol or Advil, however, you will likely cause long-term damage. Even without further damage, the extra time it takes to heal will place a bigger burden on your co-parent. The prudent thing to do in most situations is to understand exactly what hurts. Once you do that, you can change your behavior to lessen the impact.
For example, if you end up with tennis elbow from carrying your infant around (not uncommon), you need to change how you hold them. If your back is sore, you may need to have your partner do the lifting from the ground or crib. What you’ll need to keep in mind with these types of injury is how long they take to heal. Tennis elbow can take months to go away once you modify behavior. A muscle injury to the back can also take weeks to months to fully heal and reinjury is always possible.
Of course, some symptoms require an expert’s eye. You can’t walk off a broken wrist or shake off a head injury. And rubbing dirt on a deep cut is just asking for trouble. If there is ever doubt about the severity of an acute injury or there are vision or concentration issues, you need to make a trip to the doctor immediately.
The dreaded doctor
A lot of home care options work. Most injuries to muscles and joints don’t require much more than attention and modifications. But sometimes, things take a turn for the worse.
Recognizing the signs
Sometimes, you have a weakness. It might be something you hurt badly when you were younger, remnants of an accident, or just a part of your body that’s in disrepair but remained hidden. For many, these are back or joint problems. When a child is introduced to the mix, you find yourself adopting body motions you never did before. You’re reaching into a crib, hunching over a feeding infant, or walking with a sleeping newborn snuggled up against your shoulder.
It’s rarely a big bang, but over time, you become aware of pain. It gets worse over time. It makes picking up your kid agony. But when you’re the only one home, or your partner is taking a well-deserved break, you have no choice. Then one day, you can’t get out of bed without a lot of pain, or you’re afraid to hold your child because the pain makes you think you’ll drop them. It’s time to see the doctor.
It’s not always obvious
We are all guilty of ignoring troubling symptoms or signs we aren’t well. A common stereotype of men is we avoid going to see a doctor because the sore back will be fine on its own, and the doctor will only make things worse by finding something wrong with it. We get it. But while a sore back might make work harder than it needs to be, a sore back as a parent will negatively impact the child’s care. Chronic pain or injuries become urgent if new symptoms develop, or if the pain becomes so debilitating you can’t function. In either case, professional help is required.
Plan for injury
The temptation to ignore injuries is high, especially if you can function in a limited way. Plus, there are numerous reasons why heading to urgent care is difficult, especially if you are home alone. But ignoring something doesn’t make it go away. And powering through it can be debilitating in time.
To prepare for situations like this ahead of time, here’s what you can do.
Create a list of alternate caregivers
Ideally, you have friends, family, or neighbors close by who are familiar with your kids. This is the best way to handle a few hours of child care, since they know your kids and your kids know them. This is especially important for kids who are 1-3 years old, as they have issues with separation and stranger anxiety. If you are in a hurry (such as a last-minute appointment) or strike out with your backup list, many daycare centers offer drop-in options and rates. And if you have preschool or older kids, you can probably bring them with, with the proper prep and diversions (books, tablets, or other toys).
Scope out your medical options
As we’re based in the United States, we understand that our health care system is a bit… wonky. Depending on your location, health insurance, and other considerations, you might have preferred locations to visit to avoid high out-of-pocket costs. And even if you don’t, you might have a preferred clinic or primary care doctor based on previous visits. The last thing you want to do is spend a half hour searching your insurer’s website to figure out which clinic or urgent care near you is in-network. This information is typically good until the next calendar year, when your plan, insurer, or something else changes.
Pack a bag
Especially if you go to an urgent care or emergency room, you can expect a wait time. If you’re by yourself, like us you’ll probably just fiddle around with your phone. You should make sure you have some kind of charging system in place, whether it’s a battery pack or a wall wart with the right USB cable. If you have to bring your kids along, a bag of toys they rarely see, some food, and diapers, if necessary, will go a long way towards making the wait tolerable. This might be the place to stash an old tablet or phone to let them play with. Personal experience shows that during higher peak times (cold & flu season), an ER or urgent care can have wait times of 2-4 hours.
Look out for each other
You need to be your own advocate for treatment, but it helps to have your partner kick you in the butt if you’re being reluctant. Just remember it should be a two-way street.
Even if medical treatment isn’t required, injuries are stressful and create issues in child care. You should make sure your partner is aware of any pain you have, and your partner must do the same. Each of you can act as a check on the other, especially for chronic or long-term issues. You might think you’re doing fine, but if the change is gradual enough it might not be as apparent to you. Your partner might recognize that you’ve reached a tipping point, or they have. If they say you need to see a doctor, treat it as a command that cannot be ignored. While there is concern for you, it’s also likely that you are causing issues for them. Make the appointment or head to urgent care.