People are commonly taught to avoid flexing — or rounding — their spine, especially when lifting objects.
Is the advice helping or harming them?
This question may seem silly, but research is clear lifting with a rounded low back does not increase our risk for pain or injury.
Dead serious. Check out the studies for yourself if you don’t believe me.
This leads me to another question regarding the “dangerous” rounded back recommendations. Are there long-term behavior changes when teaching someone to adopt a specific posture in response to pain?
Unintended consequences of posture advice
This study tested whether fear-avoidance beliefs influenced spinal motion during lifting. The study used a healthy group of pain-free adults without a history of chronic pain to limit potential variables
In case I didn’t satisfy your research appetite earlier, the background section of this study cites many additional studies that show lifting with a rounded back does not contribute to low back pain. Furthermore, there are studies that show avoidance of flexed postures creates a rigid motor behavior or unwillingness to move freely.
Fifty-seven pain-free adults were included in the study assessing fear-avoidance beliefs. Participants were then asked to perform a series of activities of daily living including upright standing and sitting on a chair, bending forward and backward from an upright standing position without bending their knees, standing up from a chair and sitting down on a chair with free-hanging arms, lifting-up and putting-down a 5 kg-box (40 × 30 × 17 cm) that was placed 15 cm in front of the subjects’ feet, walking and running on level ground as well as climbing up and down a stair with four steps. No further instructions were given to ensure individual and natural movements at self-selected speeds.
The researchers measured the participants’ body position during each task. They compared the body positioning with self-reports of pain-related fear. The results showed people’s actions when lifting objects are related to their beliefs about body position while lifting. The relationship was negative.
The more people flex their backs, the more they expect and fear pain.
From childhood, people are told to lift with their legs and not their backs. The research does not support this belief. Feel free to round your back when lifting objects, even if they are heavy. Our spines are strong and our bodies are resilient.
The messaging of avoiding flexed postures may be more harmful than helpful.