Jean Couch and the Balance Center (where I did my posture training) were featured in the story “Lost Art of Bending Over: How Other Cultures Spare Their Spines” on February 26, 2018. The segment discusses how common, everyday bending posture in industrialized countries is misaligned and dangerous.
We tend to bend from the waist, like the image above, and look like “cashews” (we also sit that way!). Instead of curving into that C shape, healthy cultures bend with their spines elongated, looking straight – more like a “table.” That’s because they bend at their hip joints.
The author mentioned that she had noticed this posture in rural areas where she traveled after she started looking for it. I also noticed this posture in the course of my travels, most recently in Mexico, and years ago in Nepal. In the NPR story you can see a great photo of a man bending in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, demonstrating how this healthy bending looks: (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines).
Biomechanics researcher Stuart McGill of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, also is a fan of this type of bending, which he calls “hip hinging.” He says when we bend our spine,”…that puts more stress on the spinal discs.” He also talks about the hip joints as the ideal place where we are designed to bend – “the hips are ball and socket joints. They are designed to have maximum movement, lots of muscle force, etc.”
So it makes sense to bend at the hip joints, where those big movements are easy, and also help keep the joints lubricated, rather than from the spine/waist, where we are weakening our spines and stressing back muscles.
Importance of Your Hamstrings
Liza Shapiro from the University of Texas at Austin mentions how bending at your hip joints engages your hamstrings. They work and they also stretch. The story mentions that in the US we have tight hamstrings, and maybe that’s why we don’t bend from our hip joints.
However, one thing that isn’t mentioned in the story is WHY our hamstrings are so tight in the US. The more we bend from our waists, the less we will stretch our hamstrings, so the tighter they’ll get. The tighter they get, the more they’ll restrict our ability to bend in the right place, from our hip joints, so it’s a vicious cycle. The tight hamstrings didn’t CAUSE the lack of hip-hinging. The cultural posture in the US did. The posture we see around us, and imitate, is what we practice on a daily basis. But this can be changed.
(Your hamstrings are attached to your sitting bones, or “ischial tuberosities,” which are at the bottom of your pelvis. So when you bend from your waist – bending your spine – the pelvis doesn’t move. Thus there is no stretch of the hamstrings attached to the pelvis.)
So far there aren’t any randomized trials studying hip hinging, but people throughout the world have been doing it for probably thousands of years. All toddlers do it too! It’s a natural instinct. You can actually learn this from your kids or grandkids. If you go to the NPR website you can also see a short video of Jenn Sherer (also of the Balance Center and now at www.spinefulness.com) demonstrating hip hinging.
I Used to Bend like a Cashew, Too!
I had a painful experience of unhealthy bending years ago when I was lifting and moving a pine tree in a hurry, and I wasn’t attending to my posture. I didn’t feel the pain immediately, but shortly afterward as I bent to pick up a light object, I felt a ripping pain in my back that stopped me in my tracks. I don’t have a video of what I did, but I’m certain that I was bending from my waist, and twisting, rather than bending in a safe way from my hip joints.
When you bend from your waist, you are more likely to experience back pain and damage to your discs, nerves, muscles and vertebrae. Those with osteoporosis are at risk of vertebral fractures. Your habitual movement patterns and posture also shape you so that you end up curvier and shorter.
Since that painful bending incident, luckily I haven’t thrown my back out again. Now that I practice Balanced/Spineful posture, I feel pretty safe when I bend. Since then, I’ve moved several times to different cities, doing lots of bending and lifting boxes, with no problem. It is important to go slowly when lifting heavy objects, and also to make sure the object is not too heavy for you. Sometimes it’s better to leave something where it is rather than risk injuring yourself.
To bend safely, remember to:
-bend from your hip joints (where your legs meet your pelvis)
-keep your knees soft or bent
-face straight ahead rather than twisting
-keep your back straight like a table
To lift heavy objects safely, more instruction is needed, so it’s best to start with light objects when you’re learning this new way of bending.
© Dana K. Davis, 2018. All Rights Reserved.