A Simple Change to the Way You Bend Takes Pressure Off Your Back

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Everything from wearable straps to mindful meditation has been recommended for back pain, but one of the easiest ways to take pressure off your spine is to change the way you bend. NPR reports that the way you bend down can either save or strain your back, and while people in most cultures know how to do the former, many people raised in the West are bending all wrong.

To determine if your natural bending style is helping or hurting you, stand up and place your hands on your waist. Now lower your upper body toward the ground like you're about to pick up something—do you feel yourself folding at the stomach where your hands are, or are you maintaining a flat back and hinging your hips? If you're from America, chances are you bent at the waist, thus curving your spine into a "C" shape and subjecting your spinal discs to unnecessary weight.

You've likely been doing this most of your life, after seeing your parents and everyone else around you bend this way, but your body wasn't built for this type of movement. The discs of collagen that hold your spine together wear down after years of stretching and contracting, which is why sitting and standing up straight is best for your back.

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Your hip joints, however, are designed to twist and support heavy loads. To people in many countries, like the women in the photo above taken in India, hip-hinging is innate. One reason it may have fallen out of fashion in the U.S. is hamstring problems. When you hinge from the hips, the pressure that would normally be on your spine is transferred to your lower body, causing your hamstrings to stretch.

Many people in America have tight hamstrings, and if you're one of them, bending with a flat back when you're not used to it may feel uncomfortable. But practicing the motion until it becomes second nature may be worth it: Lower back pain affects nearly two-thirds of all Americans. And while there has yet to be any research confirming that bending this way prevents back problems in the long run, it will at least give your hamstrings a nice workout.

[h/t NPR]