Go to Part 1 in the Back Care series
Most folks know how to pick up a heavy box. Squat down, keep your back reasonably flat and upright and use your legs to lift.
However, most folks do not know how to plug in a power cord. (as the below photo shows)
Forward bending puts a great deal of stress on your back and we do it hundreds of times a day. Picking up your keys, putting your socks on, plugging in a power cord, and on and on. This is why people frequently throw their backs out sneezing or picking up some insignificant thing off the floor like keys or clothing.
While normally these don’t cause much trouble, the hundreds of bends a day add up. Especially if you sit in a chair all day and are beating up your back with a bad chair or bad posture. Over time all of it weakens your back, degrades discs, and causes back pain.
So what to do?
There are a couple books I can recommend. Both have some minor issues but overall they’re very good. I’ll talk about them in detail in Part 3 of this series.
Back RX by Vijay Vad
8 Steps To a Pain Free Back by Esther Gokhale
Obviously for heavy objects, keep doing what you’re probably already doing: use your legs to lift.
But you also want to use your legs to pick up almost any object. Using the same technique to pick up small objects works as well. That said, all the squatting can be a bit tough on the knees, so lets talk about hip hinging.
(the image shows a woman stretching but she’s doing it with a good hip hinge. Since it’s a stretch, it’s, uh, a bit more exaggerated than you’d do picking something up. Not a perfect image for this post, but we’ll roll with it.)
Imagine your hip as a door hinge. Your upright back as the door and your legs as the wall. Keep your back mostly flat and hinge at the hips. Tilting your pelvis instead of bending your back. Then bend your legs to get the rest of the way to the floor. This puts less strain on your back and not as much strain on your knees as going into a full squat. Also, part of it is to engage your abs as you’re hinging. Strong abs help maintain a strong back.
There’s some disagreement on the best way to do this. Some say bend forward (with your knees slightly bent) until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, then bend your knees. I usually hinge the back and bend the knees at the same time. This feels better for my body, but everyone is different so try it both ways. There is some truth that the more length you have in your hamstrings, the more you can hinge. However, since most people, especially those that sit a lot, have tight hamstrings, it’s just easier to hinge and bend at the same time.
But the really important bit is to be mindful of when you’re bending, regardless of how you do it. Your back isn’t going to break just from some forward bending, but the more you’re aware of how often you bend and doing it correctly as often as possible, the better off you’ll be.
This also applies to just doing regular work, say fixing a faucet or something where you have to be lower to the ground. If you can squat and keep a flat back instead of bending over to do the work, you’ll also be better off.
If this is totally new to you, then your back may feel a little sore as you use muscles you aren’t used to using. This is normal and should go away. However, it’s always good to check in with your doctor and/or physical therapist when doing anything related to posture.
In Part 3 I’ll discuss the books I mentioned above and some other resources for exercises and programs.