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How To Bend Without Flaring Up Your Back Pain

Let's face it, bending is a part of life. Whether it's reaching for something, picking something off the floor, doing the dishes, gardening, vacuuming, etc, there is a wrong way and a right way to bend if you have back pain.

First, it is important to know how flared up your pain is... if your back pain had been quiet for awhile and just resurfaced with a vengeance, or you always have back pain but the pain has been worse lately, it's important to avoid bending as much as possible to let things calm down. So first, what are some tricks to avoid bending? 1) Can you adjust what you're doing to limit bending? For example, if you are folding the laundry, position the laundry basket and the surface you are putting the folded clothes on by moving it closer to you and on a higher surface. The closer the object is to your stomach, the less you will have to bend. 2) If you need to pick lighter items off the floor, either squat (if your legs are strong enough) and straddle the object to get it close to your stomach to avoid bending, or use a reacher for light objects while standing over object to avoid bending. 3) If you can't figure out how to do something without bending: either ASK FOR HELP (why do we all have such a hard time doing this?!), or break the task up (for example: pay attention to your back pain, and if you start to feel increasing muscle fatigue/tightness, stop the task and give yourself permission to finish it later... if you keep pushing through, you will flare your back up).

But once you are out of the acute flare-up stage, learning to bend with day-to-day tasks is essential to overall decreasing your back pain.

Normally when we bend, we keep our legs straight and round our backs. This pulls on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments (all the "soft tissue") and irritates it. And if you have a disc issue, it will cause the disc to bulge further backward, placing stress on the disc and potentially irritate the nerves that go down your buttock/legs/feet.

Instead of bending this way, you will need to train yourself to do a Hip Hinge (picture to left). By bending this way, you keep your back straight and bend from your knees and hips. But you will have to practice this as an exercise regularly (daily) so that when you need to bend this way for an activity, your body "remembers" it and knows how to do it automatically.

So here is how you do it:

Step 1: Weight in heels

Step 2: Pull IN abs

Step 3: Bend knees by sticking buttocks back (a squat like you are going to sit down on a chair behind you)

Step 4: Keep some arch in your low back so that your back stays flat while you bend from your hips. One visualization is to think of sticking your buttocks back while pushing your tailbone up towards the ceiling.

Here is a video of what it looks like

Now because of weakness in the legs and back muscles, many of you will have a hard time achieving this without rounding the low back and increasing your back pain (it is such a strong pattern that we repeat daily, after all!). So, if you cannot do this exercise without feeling some increase in your low back pain... or knee pain, for that matter, I suggest you practice the anterior pelvic tilt exercise for a while, so that you can learn to use this movement pattern when you "hip hinge" to bend.

When the "hip hinge" movement pattern becomes easier for you, without increasing your back pain, learn to practice this pattern EVERY TIME you bend in day-to-day activities. And remember: learning new patterns does not come quickly, but over weeks to months with repeated practice. But once this new pattern becomes a new habit, you will find your back pain will decrease dramatically... because you will not be irritating it by bending the "old way" many times a day! Good luck. You've got this!


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