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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

Help your back by bending over correctly

You probably don’t put too much thought into how you bend over. When you drop something, you likely reach down and pick it up without hesitation. 

However, the way we bend over could be the source of back pain.

“Believe it or not, there is a wrong way to bend over,” said Geisinger neurosurgeon Mauricio Campos-Benitez, MD. “In the West, we tend to fold at the stomach when we bend over, creating a ‘C’ shape. This type of bend puts a lot of pressure on our spines and spinal disks.”

Spinal disks are fragile and aren’t designed to handle a lot of pressure. Bending over incorrectly for many years can cause slipped and herniated disks—both of which can contribute to chronic back pain and could require surgery to repair.

The right way to bend over
Outside of Europe and America, people tend to bend over differently. They do what experts call a “hip hinge.” 

“The hip hinge is a type of bend that keeps your back straight and parallel to the ground,” said Campos-Benitez. “The bend is all done in your hips, which are better suited to handle the stress of bending over than your back. During a hip hinge, your back actually relaxes.”

Hip hinging stretches your hamstrings, which is helpful because many people in the U.S. report having tight hamstrings. As a result, yoga instructors also recommend hip hinging, both as a stretch and a way to spare your back while bending over.

How to hip hinge
“Hip hinging is easy, and it may actually feel more natural than the way you’re bending over now,” said Campos-Benitez. “In fact, toddlers tend to hip hinge naturally. But as we age, we relearn how to bend over from our parents, who also bent in a ‘C’ shape.”

To do a hip hinge, stand with your feet about a foot apart with your toes pointed slightly to each side. While keeping your back straight, bend your knees, move your pelvis back through your legs and bend at the hip. Once you’re bent down, your back should be almost parallel to the ground. Then simply reverse the movement to stand back up. 

Other causes of back pain
After changing the way you bend over, if you find that you’re still having back pain, there could be another cause.

“Many cases of back injury come from trauma or poor posture,” said Campos-Benitez. “Think about if you did anything to hurt your back or neck. It could’ve been something significant, or maybe you slept the wrong way. Reflect on your posture throughout the day. Think about when you slouch and try to consciously sit up straight.”

One common cause for neck and back pain is looking at your computer and your phone. When we look at our phones or computers, we tend to look down and crane our back and neck. Try setting your phone and your computer where it doesn’t cause you to strain your neck.

If you still have frequent back pain, talk to your doctor. They can determine if it is something more serious, like scoliosis or a torn muscle. 

Dr. Mauricio Campos-Benitez is a neurosurgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre and at Geisinger Hazleton. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.
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