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Switch to a "Staggered Stance" for Lower Back and Shoulder Health

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By Erik Nieuwenhuis MS, PT St. Luke’s WorkSmart Injury Prevention Specialist and WELLness Consultant 712-279-1842 erik.nieuwenhuis@unitypoint.org

How many of you have children and love to pick them up after a hard day’s work to give them a hug? Have you ever noticed how this can melt away stress and improve your attitude? Personally, this has worked well for me as I am greeted at home by my daughters Abbigail (7) and Maelynne (4), son Hunter Norman (4 months old) and wife Jenilyn. 

Has the wonderful habit of picking up your children or grandchildren ever been impacted by a lower back or shoulder injury? These injuries affect the way you are able to perform your daily lifestyle tasks at work, home and play. Your sleep may be affected as well as your performance at work and home. I often see women especially in the awkward posture of placing both feet directly across from each other with their feet narrower than shoulder width apart. When we use this awkward posture habit to lift, push or pull or reach away from our body, all of the forces of lifting are isolated specifically to the lower back, shoulders and neck. Thereby, wear and tear increases daily and the risk of musculoskeletal injuries to the lower back, shoulders or neck increases too. 

My goal for this article is to educate you on the importance of switching your daily work and posture habits by using a staggered stance (one foot in front of the other or what I also call the “athletic ready” posture) whenever lifting, pushing or pulling and reaching away from your body at work, home and play.
Switching to a WorkSmart staggered stance will protect your lower back, shoulders and neck from injury in three ways!

  1. When you stand in a staggered stance (athletic ready posture), your balance significantly improves. When your balance and stability improves, your body will have significantly reduced biomechanical “wear and tear” forces to your lower back, shoulders and neck. Have you ever lifted a box that was stored in your garage or closet and something in the box shifted and pulled you off balance? This staggered stance posture will help prevent a loss of balance from occurring and keep your lower back and shoulders protected and safe. 
  2. The staggered stance posture forces your legs, hips and calves to increase their workload, thus sharing the load between more muscle groups and reducing the load and awkward forces to your lower back and shoulders. The more muscles, body parts and joints you have helping in any task performed at work, home or play, the less stressful and forceful the task is. In simple terms, more helps equals less work for all body parts involved. This staggered stance lifting posture will allow you to lift your infant’s or grandchild’s car seat with much less stress to your lower back, shoulders and neck.
  3. The staggered stance posture significantly reduces any rotational forces to your lower back and shoulders, by making most of the rotational forces transfer through your hips and not your lower back. This industrial athlete posture habit makes your lower back and shoulders shout for joy, because their workload and the awkward forces are significantly reduced. 

I challenge you, your spouse, co-workers, friends and those you meet across Siouxland to use a staggered stance when picking up your children or grandchildren, putting our groceries into the trunk of the car, lifting at work, picking up toys, or getting your garden ready in the upcoming months. 

Sources:

  1. Switch “How to Change Things, When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath http://heathbrothers.com 
  2. Attending four Gray Institute “Chain Reaction” courses from 99’ to 07’ led by Gary Gray PT, FAFS and Watching the Functional Video Digest Series and Fast Function DVD’s for continuing education from 99’ to 11’ www.grayinstitute.com 
  3. My career as a Physical Therapist at St. Luke’s for the past 15 years working with over 150 company’s, and specializing in WorkSmart Ergonomics Injury Prevention and Wellness for your working, aging body.