Whether it’d be picking something off the floor or tying your shoelace, we bend over to the floor every day. But have you realized that you might be doing it wrong and causing irreversible damage to your spine and back? With the help of professionals like Stuart McGill, the author of “Back Mechanics” and Jean Couch, an expert on spine alignment, we discovered the proper way everyone should bend over. Following is a transcript of the video.
If you’re American, chances are you’re bending over all wrong. When Americans reach down, they’re likely to first tilt their heads down and then bend from the waist. This contorts the body into a cashew-like shape. Not only is it uncomfortable, bending this way increases the stress on your spinal discs. These joints just weren’t designed to bend this way. Their job is to stabilize, not to move the spine. And over time, it can weaken the collagen fibers of your spine and cause back pain. The position can also cause your muscles to tighten and get tense.
It might not seem like a big deal, but a little back pain can cause a lot of problems. According to a recent report by the CDC, nearly 30% of American adults reported having lower back pain within the past 3 months of the study. And the same investigation found that lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45. Lower back pain can also affect your mental health. A study by the American Academy of Pain Medicine found that adults with lower back pain are more than four times as likely to experience serious psychological distress compared to people without lower back pain. And contrary to popular belief, lifting with your legs isn’t any better.
Stuart McGill: If you lift with your legs you will become very tired in the legs, you’ll stress the knees and the ankles. So it’s much for physiologically demanding.
The overarching issue, it seems, is that Americans have a habit of poor posture and alignment. But strangely, people from other countries don’t seem to have this problem, at least until recently.
Jean Couch: You have to get to get into smaller and smaller villages. Because of media, everyone around the world has access to United States pop culture. And in almost all pop culture the body is completely collapsed. So we’re exporting this posture all around the world.
Couch has observed that people in Peru, Guatemala, and other non-Western cultures tend to bend using a technique that protects your spine.
Jean Couch: In the United States people bend like this so the back is rounded. And people who are safe bend like this.
In this technique, you bend from the hips, keeping your back parallel to the floor. Why is this better for you? It all starts with how your hips are designed to move. These joints work like a ball and socket, so they freely swing back and forth. As a result, they can withstand a lot more force than your spinal disks, which aren’t made to handle repeated movements. When overstressed, these disks can separate and lead to disk herniation. So how can you get in the habit of table bending?
Jean Couch: Stand up, and put your heels 12 inches apart and put your toes 14 inches apart. Put your hands on your waist. When you bend here, it’s dangerous, it wears out your spinal discs and makes your back tense. Where you want to bend is not at your waist, it’s at your hip. So we have a shortcut we use —if you were Adam from the Bible, where would you put your fig leaf? Put a fig leaf here. When you bend, you want your figleaf to go through your legs. And then the spine comes along and just goes up and down.
Good luck! And remember, “cashew-chic” is not a good look for your back.