Body Mechanics by Heather Jeffcoat, PT
Heather Jeffcoat from the ThePilatesPT.com is back with us again explaining why our little ones are a pain in the... back. Heather is also offering 20% off a first private session to all BFLA readers. Thanks, Heather! Just mention BFLA to get the discount (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Two magical words—“New Mom”. Two more words—Back Pain. It is the most common orthopaedic ailment reported in primary care offices. There are many reasons people may experience it, ranging from muscle strains to a disc bulge to changes that have occurred in the bone itself. One thing is nearly universal—correcting your body mechanics is the key to alleviating your back pain.
Lifting and carrying your little bundle is a blessing to be sure, but can also take a toll on your body. The spine is meant to take force in a certain anatomical position, called a “neutral spine”. If you are too tucked in (rounding your back), you create increased pressure on the front of your spine and associated structures (such as the discs that lie between the vertebrae). Research studies have measured the amount of force felt through these intervertebral discs while people performed certain exercises or were put into various positions. The results of this study point to the fact that when you perform an exercise incorrectly (or too advanced) or simply bend over to pick something up, an enormous amount of stress is placed on these structures (sometimes nearly 500% of your body weight). It is only a matter of time until one part of the system fails, whether it be your muscles (causing a strain and muscle spasm), the disc (due to overstretching of the ligaments that generally support it), or undue stress on the bone (especially dangerous if you have osteoporosis).
Here are a couple of highlights to the research I mentioned above. In standing, 100% of your body weight is felt through your lumbar spine and discs.
In this position, with the knees straight, 150% of your body weight is felt through the structures in your lower back. This is without actually lifting anything (think: emptying the dishwasher).
Standing bent over while lifting 20 kg puts 460% of your body weight through your lower back.
Understanding the amount of force you put through your back will undoubtedly show you one major reason your back continues to hurt or “flare-up”. There are 3 basic “Rules” to always keep in mind:
1) Bend with your knees, not with your back (this is the one EVERYONE knows, or at least can recite, even if they don’t actually do it )
2) Keep objects you are lifting/carrying close to your center of gravity (think, belly button area)
3) Never, ever (ever) lift while twisting.
These rules not only apply to lifting up your children, but also to doing activities around the house (see dishwasher example above). When carrying the little ones (or not so little ones, as the case often seems to be), especially keep in mind rule #2.
This means, the baby goes in your center. Squat down to her as pictured above. Carry her in the center of your body as well, not off to the side on your hip, as pictured below.
If you feel you MUST use the hip carry position, please give equal opportunity on each side! We tend to carry the child on our non-dominant side (i.e. on your left hip if you are right-handed). This will create asymmetries with your muscles over time and is likely a contributing factor to your back pain. Once these asymmetries develop, if correcting your body mechanics alone doesn’t work, you likely will need strengthening and/or flexibility exercises specific to your pain.