Proper lifting can save our backs. There are also methods for pushing, pulling, and standing that put less strain on our backs. These methods use the same principles as discussed in previous Your Comfort Zones. They are just applied to different positions, postures, and functions. Remember that much of this discussion applies to your daily life at home as well as work.
Good techniques for pushing, pulling
Pushing a large object such as a piece of furniture is preferable to pulling. When pushing, your body weight can help you move an object rather than relying primarily on low-back muscles to absorb the load. As Figure 1 demonstrates, you should push by leaning forward toward the object and applying force symmetrically. In this manner, you keep the load close to you and keep your back straight to maintain those three curves - your internal architecture. Figure 1 demonstrates pushing with your elbows slightly bent, thus bringing the load closer to the body.
Figure 2 demonstrates proper technique for pushing objects to the side. Although you can’t effectively use body weight as leverage for side pushing, you can help yourself by maintaining an upright, symmetrical position of the back.
In some circumstances, it’s not possible to push a load (depending upon where the object is located), and you must pull an object. You can still apply principles to minimize the extra loads to your back. Figure 3 demonstrates that you should avoid bending your trunk forward at the waist and maintain an upright position. You can bend your knees if necessary, bend the elbows to about 90 degrees, and keep the body aligned. These simple tips will go a long way to maintain a healthy back.
A final consideration in proper pushing is the type of surface over which you are pushing and traction for your feet. Rollers or wheels placed under your object will significantly minimize the force you will need for pushing or pulling. Traction between your feet and the floor surface (also called coefficient of friction), however, will help stabilize you while you push off. To summarize principles for proper pushing:
- Push whenever possible.
- Stay close to the object.
- Keep your back straight.
- Exhale as you push.
- Use good shoe traction.
Good techniques for standing
Although standing appears to be easy on the body, it can also be fatiguing - especially when you must stand for long periods on hard floors without adequate foot support. Further, if your natural posture accentuates your low-back curve (a postural “sway”), then your low-back muscles may fatigue simply by standing with this accentuated low-back curve.
Means to reduce fatigue while standing include standing erect in a neutral position. If you put one foot up on a rail or a stool, you relax and alleviate stress to the low-back muscles. Therefore, it is prudent to change positions frequently and put one foot up when possible.
Equipment such as Sorbathane shoe inserts and ergonomic mats provide a supportive yet springy surface so that your muscles gently contract while standing. This efficiently pumps blood back toward the body to minimize pooling or swelling of the legs.
In summary, some tips for minimizing stress to the low back while standing are:
- Put one foot up periodically.
- Stretch back and shoulders.
- Stand on ergonomic mats.
- Use insoles and supportive shoes.
The principles that we have discussed in the most recent three issues of Your Comfort Zone will help you maintain a healthy back despite the daily stressors to which we are subjected. Just remember, if you keep the curves and keep the load close, you’ll be on your way to a healthier back.
Martha J. Sanders, MA, MSOSH, OTR/L
Sanders is an assistant professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. She has worked with dental practitioners for more than 15 years in rehabilitation and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders. Sanders is the editor of a textbook on ergonomics, “Ergonomics and the Management of Musculoskeletal Disorders.” E-mail her at [email protected].