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Fitness

The Top 3 Most Common Mistakes that Lead to Back Pain

back pain
by megan dahlman
May 17, 2022

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I used to work with a client named Kim. She came to me with a back and hips that felt, well, vulnerable. She was always afraid that her back would “go out” at any given moment, because this had happened to her before. One time she bent over to pick a toothbrush up off the floor and her back went out for days - she could barely get off the couch. She felt like a ticking time bomb all day long, and she really wanted the confidence that her body wouldn’t break at any given moment.

Not only was she living in fear of getting suddenly sidelined by pain and having to stop everything (including her regular fitness routine that was helping her make progress toward her weight loss goals), but her tenuous back made her afraid that she would feel old and decrepit way before she wanted to. In fact, her dad had similar issues and moved around hunched over at the waist, barely able to get around and stand up straight. I think at the heart of it, she was deeply afraid that she would become like her dad.

Well, without realizing it, she was making mistakes in the ways she moved about her day that were contributing to her pain and significantly increasing her chances of throwing her back out.

When she came to me, I was able to help her by teaching her about the common moving and lifting mistakes that she was making throughout the day. I gave her simple tips for how to be more careful with her movements and move with confidence and strength to avoid injuries. So she began putting my tips and suggestions into practice in everyday situations (like pulling a pot out from a low cupboard, or picking a blanket up off the floor)

Over time, by avoiding those common mistakes and consistently practicing these tips, she built her confidence back up that she could move without fear of hurting herself. And the best part is that she no longer sees her future as turning into her hunched over old dad.

Today I want to teach you what I taught Kim. I want to bring your attention to top 3 common mistakes that most people are making as they move about their day that put them at risk of serious back injury

And then I want to teach you what I taught Kim and give you practical tips that you can start doing today to move better. This is so important for you because whether or not you’ve had a previous back injury, if you move wrong you ARE a ticking time bomb. Myself included. Our bodies are not bulletproof machines, but there are things that we can do to make them quite a bit more resilient and increase our odds of avoiding that kind of pain.

The Top 3 Most Common Mistakes

First mistake is lifting or picking something up incorrectly

Don’t do:

  1. Bend over with legs straight
  2. Have your chest lower than your hips
  3. Stand on one leg
  4. Pick up from the side
  5. Have your torso and lower half of your body facing in different directions

Do this instead:

  1. Think “hips below shoulders”
  2. Position yourself so the object is centered with your body
  3. Squat down and make sure you feel your leg and hip muscles engaging
  4. Keep your chest upright or just slightly leaning forward. If your torso is facing the ground, you’re more likely to hurt your back
  5. Engage your core and exhale a split second before you lift
  6. Keep the object as close to the line of your body as possible as you lift

Second mistake is staying in one position for too long (especially sitting)

Don’t do:

  1. Sit for long periods of time
  2. Be in a position where your shifted to one side for too long
  3. Stand for long periods of time

Do this instead:

  1. Constantly move - even the most ergonomic set up has its limits
  2. If you have to be in a position for a long period, at the first opportunity perform countermovements (e.g. sitting with all of your leg joints bent, stand up and pull your hips straight by engaging your glutes)

Third mistake is having poor posture or improper alignment all day long

  1. Don’t do:
  2. Allow yourself to be rounded or hunched over with your head jutting forward (common position when you’re looking at a computer or staring at your phone)
  3. Don’t overcompensate and think that good posture is just squeezing your shoulder blades back and sitting up tall.
  4. Don’t assume that good posture is just about your shoulders

Do this instead for good posture:

  1. Stand up straight with your pressure evenly on each foot
  2. Make sure that your hips are not asymmetrical, or you have one hip cocked out to the side
  3. In that level position, take your pelvis and tuck the backside of it down by imagining that you’re trying to tuck your tail
  4. This will pull your pelvis out of anterior pelvic tilt and release the tension on your low back muscles, which is the most common culprit of back pain while standing
  5. After you tuck your tail down, squeeze your glutes and simultaneously exhale
  6. As you exhale, you should feel your bottom-most ribs drop an inch or two and your core muscles engage slightly
  7. You should experience a core strengthening sensation and total release at the low back
  8. Keep that position by gently engaging your abs in front and your glutes in back - I call this the “core sandwich”

These are all things that I’m constantly aware of as I go about my own day.

  • I’m always on the move, sitting or standing, but trying to not be in one position for too long
  • I’m constantly checking in with my posture and alignment, getting that “core sandwich” firing
  • And when I do bend down to pick something up, I totally exaggerate the motion and turn it into a big ‘ol squat. I’m sure it looks funny, but I don’t care. I know I won’t hurt my back.

The big idea here is that you don’t have to live in fear that your back is a ticking time bomb. Whether you’ve injured your back in the past or you just want to completely avoid any injury moving forward, I’m happy to say it’s totally possible if you avoid these big mistakes.

Your action steps now are to practice, practice, practice...all day long.

  • Check your posture, don’t let yourself stay in one position for too long, and pay attention every time you pick something up.

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
Read More About Megan
Hi! I’m Megan.
Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
Be sure to subscribe to Self-Care Simplified wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.
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Hi! I’m Megan.
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Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
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