Good body mechanics have been added to my bank of new talents since I turned 40. Bending at the knees
when lifting a heavy object is second nature, but in this decade I can hurt myself by picking up a gum wrapper. Before I go any further I must tell you that I did NOT attend medical school, therefore I use layman’s terms and anecdotes to share what I have learned about
the importance of how we position ourselves while performing the simple acts of
daily living. I learned these strategies just as most people do, after years of wear and tear caused me pain. “I have no idea what I did”, is a common statement amongst my peers when they have neck and back pain, so I know that I am not alone.
Beyond “sit up straight” there are simple rules I adopted that have nothing to do with how I reflect on my mother, but everything to do with pain avoidance. A pinched nerve lasts well-beyond the seconds it takes for a Mom’s pinch to fade, and often requires
medical treatment. The most important lesson I have learned from a lifetime of bruises on my knees, hips, and elbows is to slow down. I only hit tables and door jambs with my body when I am moving at break-neck speed, the accepted speed limit for women. Moving into the slow lane is not only safer, but I get better results from whatever I am working on. Multi-tasking is an art that I have trashed for the same reason that I do not answer my cell phone while driving; only emergent situations require either.
Here are a few simple movements and strategies that I have incorporated into my safer daily living routine:
- When rising from bed I begin from lying on my side with my knees slightly bent and aligned with my trunk. I use my arms to raise my body without twisting and then move to get out of bed. This way I am not using my back and neck muscles to raise my body weight.
- I try hard not to cross my legs because it misaligns the spine. This is one of
those unconscious habits drilled into me during toddlerhood by my Grandmother
under the “young ladies should always” heading. I have not overcome it entirely, but uncross my legs or ankles often.
- Looking down puts a lot of pressure on our neck muscles. Computer monitors placed at eye level as well as reading material placed higher and closer lessens the muscle load on my neck. My dad has an adjustable book reading table which enables him to read the large hard-cover tomes he prefers without having to hold up ten pounds.
- I eyed the gum wrapper on the floor in the rear of my vehicle and twisted then stretched to reach it. Bad move; it caused a tweak in my back with pain that lasted for weeks. It is better to pick up ANYTHING from a straight on and close position. If it is low, I bend at the knees, even for something as light as a piece of paper.
- I never hold the phone between my neck and shoulder anymore. This bad habit paired with long mother-daughter conversations pinched a nerve in my neck which
necessitated physical therapy. A phone headset is optimal because the mother-daughter conversations are not optional.
- I push rather than pull whenever possible and always face the load if I need to pull. When vacuuming, sweeping, or raking I walk with the tool I am using rather
than pushing it far away and using my arms to pull it toward me.
- Rather than assuming my Wonder Woman persona, I ask for help to move objects over 20 lbs. That is what husbands are for. Boyfriends, teenagers, and friendly neighbors can help you with this, too.
- I get close to the cabinet when putting away dishes and step up on something stable to avoid reaching far overhead.
- I sort and fold laundry from a table or bed so that I am not bending to the floor or dryer repeatedly. If I do bend it is at the knees, rather than the waist.
- I am usually aware of the floor surface where I am walking. Is it slippery or wet? Are there throw rugs or small steps?
- I carry tension in my neck and shoulder muscles, so try to consciously lower my shoulders and open my chest when sitting or standing still. This will also help me
avoid the stooped shoulders I see often in older folks.
- We blink less often when looking at a computer or reading material. Blinking often
helps to keep the eyes moist. Focusing on something 20 feet away every 15 minutes helps to relieve eye strain.
- Rising from my desk and walking around for a few minutes every hour helps me avoid that stiff feeling in my knees.
Proper body mechanics have taught me that back and neck pain is not entirely unavoidable after 40. Once again, it has been worth learning something new in order to live the way I want, as capably and comfortably as I can. If you are interested in learning more about proper body mechanics, I recommend talking with your doctor about occupational therapy.