Proper body mechanics refers to the way we move as we carry out our day-to-day activities. It includes how we position our bodies when performing tasks and when doing basic things such as sitting, standing, carrying, bending, sleeping and even lifting objects. It involves the way the muscles, skeleton, and the nervous system coordinate to ensure that the right balance, posture, and body alignment is maintained.
Poor and improper body mechanics are the major cause of back problems, pains, and injuries. Poor posture, moving things incorrectly, and lifting objects improperly cause the spine to be subjected to stresses that —with time— could result in its tear and wear. For these reasons, it is essential that we learn about the principles and guidelines that govern proper body mechanics.
Four Basic Factors That Create the Definition of Proper Body Mechanics
Since we were young, many of us have been told to stand up straight. However, as we grew up, no one took notice of this simple rule and we lost this habit. Proper body mechanics are mostly based on the simple factor, good posture. When you’re standing upright, your spine is maintained at a neutral position with no curves and arches.
The spine consists of bones known as vertebrae that —when aligned properly— form a natural S curve. This should always be maintained when standing, sleeping and sitting.
The base, where we can find our center of gravity, is one of the factors you should consider before lifting, pushing, or pulling an item. A wider support provides us with more stability and balance.
You’ll find your most active muscles in your legs, arms, and torso. You need them to accomplish most tasks. You strain these muscles carrying out several activities during the day. To avoid straining them, it’s essential that you’re conscious of how you handle tasks.
Proper Lifting Technique
The way you lift items from the floor, irrespective of the weight, influences the stress placed on our spine. The heavier the item you are lifting, the higher the stress that’s put on your spine. Before lifting, make sure to maintain good posture and follow proper bending technique to avoid overworking our spine.
Guidelines to Proper Posture
Maintaining Good Posture Through Proper Body Mechanics
There are four basic guidelines that govern proper body mechanics. To avoid muscle injuries and back pains, follow these guidelines;
- 1. When bending, bend your hips and knees and not at the waist. This reduces the stress on the spine and helps you maintain your balance. The weight is divided evenly between the upper part of the body and the lower part.
- 2. Keep your feet spread apart to create a firm support. This is essential as it creates sufficient balance and prevents you from swaying sideways.
- 3. Ensure that your back, feet, pelvis and neck are aligned when making a turn or a move. This keeps you from twisting or bending at the waist.
- 4. Take regular breaks to stretch when you have to maintain a given position for long periods. Stretching helps restore the changes that had to happen to the back and spine to its original position.
So how does one maintain proper body mechanics?
Maintaining Proper Body Mechanics
When Standing or Walking
Make sure that your ears, shoulders, hips and even your ankles are aligned. Avoid locking your knees while standing. If you’ve been standing for a long time, consider changing positions or placing your foot on a lower stool. If you cannot avoid standing for long hours, try leaning on walls to help reduce the stresses and fatigue. Your feet should be flat on the ground and be approximately 12 inches apart.
Most people are seated for the greater part of the day. Sitting in itself is a good activity but it could result in injuries if you do not maintain proper posture. When sitting, ensure that your back is supported, and your feet are flat on the floor at approximately 90 degrees. Your shoulders should be in a relaxed position and your chest should be lifted. Your back should be straight or in a neutral position to avoid stressing your back and spine. Your buttocks should be at the back of the seat. Lift your jaw and chin and relax them. It is essential to use chairs with armrests as they provide support for your arms and body. For prolonged sitting periods, take short breaks so you can change positions and stretch.
According to research, most people spend approximately a third of their time in bed. Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of our sleeping position. In addition, choose a mattress that is firm enough to maintain proper posture.
It is essential not to lift or carry objects that weigh more than 10 pounds. When picking a heavy object, avoid bending over in a manner that your back becomes parallel to the ground as this could strain your back. Many recommend kneeling with one knee first on the ground and having one hand hold on to something for support. Once the object is close enough to the body at the waist level, pull the abdomen in support of the back and breathe out as you lift. Holding your breath strains the muscles and the spine.
Bending and Turning
When bending and turning, keep your feet flat and should-width apart. Remember to avoid bending over the waist. Instead, bend from the knees and hips while keeping your back straight.
Keep your head high and abdomen gently pulled inward. Point your feet ahead and not to one side of your body. Bend your knees slightly and hold the rail for support as you go up or down the stairs.
Avoid reaching too far out or hyperextending your body. If you need to get something that is out of reach, consider having a stool to step on to bring you closer to the object. Picking it from your initial position could result in imbalances and falls that could cause injuries such as back and spine injuries.
Risks and Injuries Caused By Improper Body Mechanics
Poor body mechanics can result in severe injuries that could happen immediately or eventually due to continuous repetition of the action. Injuries associated with poor posture and poor body mechanics are usually overuse injuries and they arise after a long period of time rather than suddenly.
Sciatica / Piriformis Syndrome
This is more of a symptom than a condition. It refers to the pain felt down the back of the legs. Some people describe is as an acute pain in the buttock that spreads down the back, thighs, and feet. You may feel pain when going up the stairs and notice a reduction in your ability to move at the hip joint. Overworking of the muscle resulting in compression of the nerve is usually the cause of Sciatica/Piriformis Syndrome.
Shoulder / Neck Pain
Neck and shoulder pains are common among people with desk jobs. Improper posture is the usual reason you may experience shoulder or neck pain. The simplest way to treat it is to undergo massage therapy. When working on a desk or facing the computer for an extended period, you may eventually end up falling into a slumped position and your neck protrudes forwards. This could result in shortening and weakening of your chest muscles. Your trapezius muscles in the back and neck tighten and become overworked. These imbalances can be corrected by stretching the chest muscles and engaging in building the strength of the Serratus Anterior by maintaining the right posture.
Patellofemoral Knee Pain
It is an overuse injury that results in the pain at the front part of the knee. It becomes worse when one is going down the stairs and when one tries to stand up for long periods of sitting. It is more common in women and this has been attributed to the fact that they have a wider pelvis. This wider pelvis causes a more increased angle between the thigh bone and the patella tendon in the knee.
Lower Back Pain
This is caused by improper sitting posture and arching of the lower back. Poor posture adds unnecessary strain, stress, and pressure on the muscles and ligaments of the back. The muscles become overworked, resulting in muscle spasms.
You experience pain when the space between the shoulder joints decreases. As a result, tendons that pass through this space are pinched. Poor posture is the main cause of the decrease in these tendons. The extended periods in the desk sitting in a slouched position causes the lower back muscles to weaken and this tightens the chest muscles. The shoulder joints tend to sit in a forward position and are strained over time, resulting in pain.
Solving the Problems Caused by Poor Body Mechanics
If you’ve been complaining about back pain, consider getting a better work chair. Businesses should consider using ergonomic chairs to reduce injuries among their employees. A good chair allows you to adjust its height and the angle of the back.
Avoid leaning forward and bending the neck towards the computer or any work station. You can correct this by adjusting the height of your computer or your seat. Leaning forward for long periods causes stress on the neck and shoulder muscles. The movement of the head and neck should be minimized especially during working.
If your feet barely touches the ground when you’re sitting, you are at risk of several problems. The height differences cause the thigh and the knee to incur stress and result in serious discomfort and injuries. To avoid these, use a seat that is easy to adjust so that your feet are firm on the ground with no strain on the knees. In addition, you should be able to stretch your legs freely.
You should always maintain your posture and follow proper body mechanics at all times. Consider the factors we have discussed when performing any activity, such as running, walking, sitting, and standing. It is always essential to remember that the right body posture involves keeping the whole body in a perfect alignment with other parts of the body. In addition, the spine should always be in a neutral position to avoid putting too much strain and stress on it.
- – General Problems and Recommendations. (2017). Ergo.human.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2 August 2017, from http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/AHProjects/cityofithaca/generalrec.html
- – Proper Body Alignment – National Osteoporosis Foundation. (2017). National Osteoporosis Foundation. Retrieved 2 August 2017, from https://www.nof.org/patients/fracturesfall-prevention/exercisesafe-movement/proper-body-alignment/