Lean over without sciatica pain

When dealing with sciatica pain, lifting weights or anything off of the floor can seem like a struggle and fear inducing. However, this function is something that we need to do every day. We have to pick up our sock off the floor, we need to pick up our child when they are upset, we need to be able to pick up after our dogs when they relieve themselves. Sciatica pain does not relieve us of our duties to do every day tasks, no matter how painful it is. 

Yes we can absolutely ask our friends and family to do these activities for us, but there will be scenarios in which this won’t be possible. What do we do? Do we just let go of the responsibility hoping no one would notice? Or do we bear through the pain and just get it done, knowing that it can make our pain worse as a result?

What if there was a way to bend over and pick up even the smallest thing from the floor without pain? The great news is that there is indeed a way to do it all. It is through the concept of hinging.

The idea is that we are maximizing movement and pivoting at the level of the hips rather than the back. I challenge you to look back at all of the articles you’ve read about lifting and carrying things. “Lift with your legs and not your back”, and then they will show a stick figure or a profile view of a human with an upright torso lifting a box off of the floor. Although there is some validity to this statement and image, I’ve discovered that lifting with this type of positioning can actually heighten pain and cause more issues down the line. So how can we fix it? Let’s focus on lifting with the hips, which will use the legs and protect the back.

You see, when you try to keep your chest as upright as possible, there is a lot of extension based force (with a shearing effect) because your back muscles are working extremely hard. You can even tell if your back muscles are really tight and contracted by reaching back with one hand; and seeing if there is a deep valley between back muscles. If it is a deep valley and the muscles are like guitar strings, they are working too hard. They don’t need to get stronger. In fact, they need to be put in a position to work less hard.

So when lifting something from the floor, you have permission to trust your abs and move at the hips. This can be done simply by pushing the hips back and letting the torso lean forward, just like this video. It might seem counter intuitive and even scary looking at this position. But what you will notice when leaning the torso forward (at the hips), that the back muscles relax (a little), and your abs can tighten up even more. This tight core will actually create 360 degrees of tension protecting your spine, allowing your hips to do the work.

If you are dealing with stenosis or arthritis in the spine, trying to keep an upright torso with lifting will actually narrow the opening of the spine that allows the nerves to exit. In essence, a super arched/upright torso will have an increased likelihood of pinching the nerves, making the pain worse. If you are dealing with a herniated/bulging disc, this excessive arching motion will create shear forces, making the disc more irritated.

Which muscles are working during this activity? Your glutes and hamstrings. These muscles are considered the posterior chain and are involved with hip extension (aka, kicking the leg back and standing up straight). 

You might need to be really cognizant of how you’re bending over and lifting things off the floor the first couple times you try this out. I practiced this for at least 6 weeks straight when I was a new therapist. In fact, the other PT’s in the clinic that I first worked at looked at me strangely and asked me why I was doing this. My answer, to establish a habit of picking things up correctly. The great news is that this movement is no different when lifting weights.

You don’t need to be afraid or let pain stop you from doing your normal day to activities. We need to find strategies and ways to make it so that we can live our life again.

***This is my birthday week. I hope I get to see you at the free webinar on how to fix your own sciatica pain, this Wednesday, February 15th at 7am PST. If you haven’t done so RSVP here.


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