Healthy Living: Proper Body Mechanics

By Christine Harness

During the past week, much of the staff of our local hospital and I participated in a refresher class for the use of proper body mechanics. Attending this class, instructed by our talented physical therapists, broadened my overall awareness of the importance of the wide-spread need for ongoing training and retraining for all of us. Most people suffer back pain at some time in their lives, and billions are spent on thousands of occupational back injuries every year. Causes may be poor posture, lack of exercise, too much stress – all linked to your lifestyle – or physical injury or disease. As difficult as it is to prevent injuries, it is a lot easier than correcting them.

I enjoy watching a toddler bend over to pick up a favorite toy from the floor. You won’t see him bend his back with stiff knees; instead, he automatically maintains his three natural curves of his back, spreads his feet apart for a wide base, and squats down and back up safely. It’s beautiful to watch this process. Yet, as he grows, he gradually migrates towards bad habits without concern over the long lasting effects of poor body mechanics application.

I once had the good fortune of working at a large rehab center in Las Vegas, Nevada, where most of our patient referrals were back injuries. As occupational therapists, we were assigned to evaluate the patient’s functional status, conduct a job site evaluation to measure job requirements, repetitive loads, physical demand levels, and provide the therapy addressing the identified deficits. The first two weeks of the on-the-job training were devoted to master the proper techniques of proper body mechanics, defined as “The art of distributing the work over several sets of muscles, relying on the stronger ones to do the job.” Training included sitting and rising, walking, going up and down stairs, stooping, pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, cleaning, vacuuming, bed-making, laundry, and a special session on moving furniture. It was impressive to watch a short, small statured therapist remove the drawers, tilt the chest toward her, and “walk” the piece, step by step from one room to another! The secret to success of our program remained with our ongoing attention to the use of safe, protective techniques. We also practiced giving recognition to patients and staff members as they demonstrated proper use, and we gently reminded and assisted those who failed to comply. An annual refresher course is certainly helpful, but ongoing reminders are needed to make a difference.

Main points to remember are: keep your back in a balanced position; plan your movements ahead of time, ask for help when needed; do not remain in one position for extended periods of time; maintain a wide stable base while standing and lifting; pivot your feet, don’t twist your back; keep your stomach muscles firm while lifting and performing daily activities; keep items close to your body; lift with your legs not your back; and again, when in doubt, ask for help.

Christine Harness has worked in the field of Occupational Therapy throughout her adult life, both in and outside of the Kern River Valley. She has helped countless individuals to maintain or regain their independence. Christine believes that enjoying and taking satisfaction in one’s day-to-day activities is the key to a meaningful life.