Fitness Articles

Protecting Your Back

Use Proper Body Mechanics for Back Protection

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By Sara Hambidge, Physical Therapist         
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We've all heard the advice, "lift with your legs," and this guidance is especially true for people with weak, injured or arthritic joints.

Your body undergoes a great deal of stress and changes throughout your lifespan. The last thing it needs is additional stress caused by improperly lifting, bending, or getting out of bed. Here's why.

The lower back and sacroiliac joints (located at the lower back on each side of the spine) are particularly vulnerable. Twisting or incorrectly lifting objects can place undue stress on this area of the body, which is already susceptible to injury, aches, and pains. For these reasons, it's essential that you learn how to use the mechanics of your own body to your advantage, whether picking up clothing off the ground or carrying a heavy box.

Simply put, your leg muscles are stronger than your back muscles, so use them! Below are some simple techniques that will help keep your spine healthy:
  • Always use your legs when lifting. Bend at the knees, not from the waist.
  • Squat down or kneel to pick up items off the floor.
  • Hold objects close to your body as you carry them.
  • While holding anything heavy in your arms, avoid twisting from the waist. Turn your entire body instead.
  • Avoid carrying your laundry basket on one hip. This creates poor posture.
  • Adjust your work areas, such as countertops or tables, to a height that allows you to stand up straight without leaning over.
  • Exhale and tighten your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles as you lift.
     
  • Getting up from floor: Roll onto your side first, and then push through your hands to come to an upright position. Come to a kneeling position, then place one foot forward on the floor. Place your hands on your forward knee. Use your legs and arms to push yourself to a standing position.
     
  • Getting out of bed: Roll onto your side first, and then push through your hands to come to an upright position. Swing legs over the side of the bed and sit up, then use legs and arms to come to a standing position.
     
  • Lifting items from the floor: Squat or kneel down, without bending from the waist. Keep the object as close to your body as possible when transferring. Exhale and contract your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles as you straighten your legs to stand up.
     
  • Bathing a child or pet: If using the bathtub, kneel next to it. If using the sink, stand up straight, bending over as little as possible. Place one foot on a stool or open sink cabinet in front of you will alleviate the stress on your lower back.
    Continued ›
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About The Author

Sara Hambridge Sara Hambridge
Sara is a graduate of Saint Louis University's physical therapy program. She practices physical therapy and enjoys sand volleyball, yoga, and Pilates.

Member Comments

  • A lot of people don't know that back injuries can be cumulative rather than being caused by doing something wrong one time, so doing things that don't seem to hurt your back can be adding one more straw at a time to the camel's back until there are enough to break it (figuratively speaking). So take the advice given here even if not taking it doesn't seem to be causing a problem.

    Not twisting while holding weight is sound advice: if you want to squish something on the ground with your foot you instinctively put the ball of your foot on it and press down while twisting your foot back and forth. This is what you are doing to the soft disks between your vertebrae when you twist while holding weight. - 3/18/2016 12:24:28 PM
  • Thank you, good tips. Sadly I can't squat (much) because of a chronic bursitis of the hip. - 3/16/2016 3:59:39 PM
  • From someone with back problems, I appreciate the reminders. Thank you. - 3/16/2016 11:55:14 AM
  • Very good reminders! It is so easy to make a wrong move and end up recuperating for weeks! - 3/16/2016 7:47:17 AM
  • I have a bad back and a excruciating arthritic knee... so much of the advice for my back is impossible because of my knee, and vice versa. I'm adapting and using exercises and tips that don't hurt... and it's a huge challenge. However, I keep moving :) - 1/24/2016 11:09:14 AM
  • These are very useful tips for people who are suffering from back pain badly. These exercises will be very beneficial for anyone who wants to get better by doing natural exercises. CureCrowd provides you data regarding your medical issues and possible treatments for the same.

    Visit https://www.curec
    rowd.com/ for more details. - 1/22/2016 7:25:03 AM
  • You think we're NOT kneeling by the bathtub? - 11/25/2015 6:30:52 AM
  • Boy do I have lower back issues. Thank you for the tips! - 11/22/2015 2:18:18 PM
  • my work offered a "healthy back" class. It was wonderful! - 9/10/2015 10:27:10 AM
  • JAMALRAJ
    Best way to protect your back - While sitting, keep your feet behind your knees. This way the back does not have to bear undue force. - 6/12/2015 11:29:06 AM
  • Instead of bending over to wash a pet, find a self-serve dog wash. Most have elevated tubs so you don't have to reach. :-)
    - 6/12/2015 10:31:10 AM
  • CAROLORRAI
    To chaplaintwagner: It is never to late. I was morbidly obese at 55. I decided it was time to do something. I got a diet plan at the Hospital, got a tredmill and started to work. It took me about 1 1/2 years to loose 100Lbs, I wanted to do it slow. I am now 71, and I will always be a work in progress, but I go to the GYM every other day, and try to eat right most of the time.
    See if you can set up a work station where you can sit or stand. Sitting is the new health hazard, right along with smoking.
    - 6/12/2015 8:16:03 AM
  • UTAHCOUNTRYGIRL
    I saw this thread right when I was having problems with my back. Seems I always see something relevant to me at that time. Pretty cool! - 3/26/2015 9:58:08 AM
  • This is so very interesting! Thanks for sharing. - 3/17/2015 9:22:34 AM
  • SISSYC2
    A few years ago I had a herniated disc. Physical therapy helped but I read about a DVD for back pain. It is Viniyoga Therapy by Gary Kraftsow for lower back, sacrum and hips. It was a lifesaver for me. Still do it occasionally when I get twinges of pain. Well worth the $15 at Walmart. - 10/30/2014 11:15:19 AM

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