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Fitness Articles

Protecting Your Back

Use Proper Body Mechanics for Back Protection

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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.
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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

  • 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
  • Thanks so much for this. - 10/28/2014 10:02:31 PM
  • It's NEVER too late to start working toward fitness. - 10/28/2014 7:24:33 PM
  • Being morbidly obese and working a lot at a computer, my posture, well... just sucks. I suffer from all kinds of pain. I was wondering, being 45, is there hope that I can get my back into shape and fix the posture still or is it too late and pretty much damage is done? Is there any exercise or stretching I should be doing or can do to improve things? May not be the right place to ask, if not I am sorry. - 10/28/2014 8:38:43 AM
  • RIDHA91
    it is great for your back, and I want mencobannya to be like you, maybe not directly but I will try to keep that in the future there is no problem on my back,
      thank you for writing about this article I hope it can be useful to me or to others. and another one, I want you to see my website and maybe you are interested, can visit the following page http://about-towe
    ightloss.blog
    spot.com/ thank you for your time to read comments from me - 8/19/2014 11:29:54 PM
  • THANKS - 1/7/2014 11:28:15 AM
  • SUNSHINEROSS3
    good tips - 1/23/2013 10:27:02 AM
  • @GREENSHADE: When doing the dishes, open the cabinet under the sink and rest the front half of your foot (left or right) there. It is very helpful. If you do not have a cabinet there, fix yourself up with a box that you can use. You don't want it to be too high. Try a few heights to see what works best. - 10/15/2012 11:37:34 AM
  • I personally have a tought time with the back gestapo. I still prefer to lift the "improper" way as I guess I was blessed with a strong back (yes I have hurt it in the past once due to my own stupidity but more often to MVA'S not my fault and accidents at work). I personally find its better to keep as fit as I can and to look after my back by having a strong core and back muscles.
    - 3/26/2012 8:42:13 PM
  • Thanks for the suggestion about propping up one foot while bathing a pet in the sink. I'll try that when I'm doing dishes - the only time I really have back pain. - 3/11/2010 8:31:54 PM
  • I work in a hospital and always need to lift patients, so have always tried my very best to be "back injury conscious" however, I somehow injured my sacroiliac joint this spring. Not fun, lots of sciatica and still gives me pain even after Physical Therapy, Chiropractic, pain shots into the joint, exercise, etc. Never would have even considered a SI joint injury. Am told that strengthening the core is the key to prevention of it. Wished I'd known before. - 1/2/2010 12:13:18 AM
  • LESHOF
    I would also like exercises to strengthen the core muscles - like DewyDame, I also have spondylolisthesis
    , a bulging disc, and osteoarthritis in the lumbar spine area. Have had the injections and nerve ablation and am much improved however I need to exercise core muscles and don't want to cause injury since I feel so much better. Can you help? - 5/7/2009 2:08:10 PM
  • Very good, concise article. Would like to see more coverage for people with special needs. Thank you.

    - 2/8/2009 10:43:54 PM
  • I have spondylolisthesis
    , and was told to quit all exercise until the symptoms disappear. After 2 epidurals, I am doing much better. Doctors tell me to exercise, lose weight (doing that), strengthen the core, be sure not to arch the back or twist the back, and stretch the hamstrings. When I asked what to do, I was given ONE Pilates exercise called Boat Pose. Cycling I can do but NordicTrak arches my back too much. I was told to walk also, but I arch my back too much walking, for now. I am on a waiting list for water walking and water aerobics.

    I was told this general rule: If I have sciatic pain again, stop.

    In the past I loved Curves and my NordicTrak and dance aerobics.

    Because I can't do my "favorites" my emotions tell me that I can't do any exercise. lol

    What exercises on SP's site are possibilities to try?

    Joan - 1/2/2009 11:20:22 AM
  • GAZELLA
    For those who, perhaps due to hip problems, cannot squat, it's wise to have one of those grabbers on hand on every floor of your home. It'll save your back a lot of unnecessary - and unhealthy - strain. - 1/4/2008 8:44:04 AM
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