Poor posture is public enemy No. 1 for millions of Americans who experience back pain. Sitting, standing, lifting, exercising, even sleeping with poor posture can strain the muscles and ligaments of the back while putting unwanted pressure on vulnerable discs.
Good posture begins with a neutral spine, when you maintain a slight anterior curve at the low back and neck and a slight posterior curve at the middle back. Your pelvis should not be tilted or rotated, and your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle should be in a straight line with one another.
Many of us pay close attention to our posture during exercise, only to abandon our watchfulness as we go through the paces of everyday life. Unfortunately, daily tasks can be just as dangerous to our backs as vigorous exercise movements, and we should practice the same vigilance when we perform them.
Lifting is perhaps the most obvious culprit. Whether you're carrying groceries, laundry or young children, you should always bend your knees and shift your hips backward as you lift. This allows your legs, rather than your back, to carry the bulk of the load. Keep your head higher than your shoulders, and never twist as you lift. Whenever possible, divide your load or ask someone to help.
For tasks that require a forward lean, such as working over a desk, always bend from the hip, not the waist. Doing so will maintain the neutral position of your spine and prevent you from rounding your shoulders.
One daily task which can wreak havoc on your back is vacuuming. Even with today's lightweight, easy-rolling models, pushing, pulling and lugging a vacuum around incorrectly can put you at risk for injury.
Most individuals tend to remain stationary, keep their legs fairly straight, and bend from the waist as they use their torsos to move the vacuum back and forth (photo at left).
It is much safer to move along with the vacuum cleaner as you clean. It may feel awkward at first, but can mean a world of difference for your back. First, bend your knees and incline your torso forward by releasing your hips behind you (photo at right). Keep your chest high, and your head aligned as well. Push the vacuum only as far as your extended arm will allow without bending your body at the waist. If you need to push it farther, walk along with it. You may find yourself backing up a bit more, but if you watch your step and move carefully, you'll get used to it fairly quickly.
Not only will you be saving your back, but you may discover that you're working a few extra muscles as well!