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Body Mechanics 101

Ahh… the seasons are changing. Summer is over, fall is upon us and soon we'll be decorating our homes for the holidays (not to mention preparing for houseguests). This may mean moving heavy furniture and vacuuming areas that haven’t been touched in awhile, or repetitive bending to clean floors, showers, etc. Although cleaning house is necessary (and can be therapeutic for those of us that are slightly OCD), you must be careful and watch your body mechanics so you don’t injure your back (or any other body part for that matter)!

Yes, it’s time for Body Mechanics 101. For those of you cleaning out your garage or closet, make sure that when you lean forward to pick something up you bend from your HIPS, not your waist. Bending at your waist causes a lot of repetitive movement in your low back and can cause injury from overuse. The muscles in your lower back are primarily meant to stabilize your spine, not continuously lift the weight of your trunk over and over again. These muscles don’t have the endurance or the coordination to both stabilize and move your trunk every time you return to upright - it’s just too much for the muscles to handle! Instead, take it down a joint – to your hips. Bend at your hips, sticking your butt out as your trunk comes forward. This maintains the natural curve of your back, keeping all the muscles in a good position to stabilize. When returning to upright, actively squeeze your buttock muscles. This will make your gluts do most of the work and take some strain off your lower back.

You may notice that bending at your hips puts a large stretch your hamstrings. That’s OK, just make sure you keep the curve of your back, go as far as your hamstrings will allow and then bend your knees to reach the object. Also, regularly stretching your hamstring will help prevent them from limiting your perfect body mechanics. Keeping your hamstrings loose takes some pressure off your lower back, so stretching them regularly will help with general low back pain as well.

You should always use your legs to lift anything greater then five to ten pounds. Just take a look at the size of these muscles! Your gluts and quads are much larger and therefore stronger then your small back muscles (the deep ones). So, be smart and use what you got!

Another pointer: Keep heavy objects close to your body! The further away from your body, the harder your back has to work to prevent you from falling over. Embrace the heavy item as if it were part of your body rather than something you are carrying.

Along the same lines, when lifting and carrying things from one location to another make sure your shoulders and hips stay in the same line, always facing your destination. For example, if moving a box from one table to another, lift the box, carry it close to your body, and turn your entire body toward the destination before putting it down. Don’t just rotate your back! The discs along our spinal column don’t tolerate forward bending combined with twisting very well. In fact, this is the most common way to cause a tear in on of these discs and we’ve all heard and/or experienced how debilitating this injury is in one’s life.

So, all together now! Bend at the hips, stick your butt out, bend your knees, carry things close to your body, turn to face your shoulders and hips to the destination and then squeeze your butt to come to upright. Maybe we should come up with a song…

Nikki Cohen, DPT joined the CTS family in 2006. She first received her Bachelor of Science degree from California State University of Northridge in May 2002 in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Exercise Science. Nikki then received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Azusa Pacific University in 2005. She grew up and spent her life in Los Angeles until she moved to San Diego in March 2006. For more information visit comprehensivetherapy.com.