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Eight Everyday Habits Harming Your Spine (Neck & Back)

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in August of 2017. For the original video go to

Bob: Howdy folks, I’m Bob Schrupp, physical therapist,

Brad: Brad Heineck, physical therapist,

Bob: Together, we are the most famous physical therapists on the internet,

Brad: In our opinion, of course Bob.

Bob: We’re going to talk about eight everyday habits that are harming your spine, maybe your neck and back and you don’t even know it. We’re going to help you get through this, so you know to stop doing that.

Brad: So, if they don’t stop doing that and these are things we know are happening and you just don’t know because it happens over a period of years. It’s largely because of posture, keeping the spine where it needs to be. Were you just reading something about teenagers?

Bob: Yes! We just found out that a lot of teenagers are getting their necks examined and looking at the x-rays they found out that the deterioration is equivalent to somebody that’s been working at a job for around 20 years. Like a dentist or somebody who is bent down all the time. Their necks have deteriorated equal to that.

Brad: That’s because they’re studying so hard?

Bob: Oh no, no. That’s because they are looking down at their phones all the time. I’m not being negative, because we are all on our phones all the time. When you use your phone, you’re going to want to bring it up to your face so you’re not looking down. They talk about the Tyrannosaurus Rex arms, the real short arms, you keep your elbows against your body and bring the phone up to your face.

Brad: We should tape your arms to your body, so they stay in the right spot.

Bob: Yeah, that’s a good idea.

Brad: We’ll come up with something. We’ll come up with that later.

Bob: Alright, 8 habits, and maybe we’ll throw in a bonus if we have time, Brad. Let’s start off right away in the morning when you’re getting out of bed. Your back is very vulnerable in the mornings because what happens at night is your discs fill up with fluid during the night so you’re actually taller in the morning than you are during the day because during the day you start squishing that fluid out and you’re actually getting shorter.

Brad: That’s how they survive, overnight they get fluids and nutrients and then during the day it squishes out the old fluids and waste products go out, and it’s called imbibition.

Bob: Wow, that’s quite impressive. So, you’re starting off, you wake up in the morning and the first thing a lot of people do is lay on their backs and pull up to sitting. This is a really hard maneuver on your back, especially in the mornings.

Brad: In your back, you’re all rounded out which puts a lot of pressure on the back side of the disc; if you do have a start of a herniation, which you would not know yet, or a bulging disc, that will help make it worse, pulling yourself up with a rounded back.

Bob: So, we want you to get out of bed one of two ways. One, you can roll over onto your side. We say, “roll over like a log.” So, you’re rolling your upper body and lower body together and you’re going to push your legs off the edge of the bed and now you’re going to use the elbow and the hand and you’re going to push up like this. You’re also keeping the back straight the whole time.

Bob: An alternative would be, if you’re having a lot of pain in your back already, you can go ahead and slide over on your stomach and now you bring the foot off. That way you can keep your back straight. This is a lifesaver if you’re having back pain. Those are the two ways to get out of bed without having pain.

Bob: That was number one, now number two, Brad. Number two is using too many pillows for your neck. If you’re on your couch or bed watching TV or whatever you're doing, but I have too many pillows and my neck is flexed forward.

Brad: Your spine is straight in your back but then it takes about a 45-degree angle in the neck. You can see the TV easier or your cell phone but your neck is really taking a beating.

Bob: What you can try to do is get the pillows so you’re a little bit more level by putting a pillow under my back as well as my head. But one of these wedge things works out quite nice. If you tend to be in the habit of watching TV in bed or maybe even read in bed, this wedge is a really nice alternative. And these things aren’t that expensive.

Brad: No, I think they are around $20-$30.

Bob: So, now I can read and watch my phone. It's really a nice alternative.

Brad: Really, the bed is made for sleeping, not for all this other stuff.

Bob: We’re sticking with the head here, let’s say you get up in the morning and you get to your computer, your head is forward. That’s something we’re going to want to correct too and we’ve always said that one of the first things you should do is take your screen and you’re going to want to raise it up. Most people, the screen is too low. When it’s too low, it brings their head down.

Brad: Especially if they’re using a laptop, almost always these people have this problem. We’ve got some good videos on how to make those modifications.

Bob: With a laptop, you’re going to want to raise it up onto a stand or a couple books. Then you want a separate keyboard for it.

Brad: Really thick books work well, but it depends on if you have a cordless keyboard. I just bought a keyboard and mouse cordless for my laptop for $20.

Bob: Yeah, cheap. They are going to save you a lifetime of pain. We’ve got a desk coming out. A little portable desk that we’re probably going to do in October. Somebody from Australia made it. It’s for laptops. You can carry it with you.

Brad: Oh, something to look forward to.

Bob: Next one Brad is, let’s say someone is just picking up their keys from the floor and they bend over at the waste with their legs straight, and it’s called a straight leg lift. They aren’t bending their knees at all.

Brad: Then the hamstrings tighten up which puts even more force on the back. It’s a double whammy.

Bob: People think, I’m only picking up something light, it doesn’t matter. If you keep doing this repeatedly and repeatedly, over time it’s going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Brad: Not only the camel’s back but your back.

Bob: You see a lot of people pulling weeds this way. This is even worse because when you’re pulling the weed, now you’re adding a force on your back as you pull.

Brad: As a therapist, we know that’s a long lever arm, so it multiplies quite a bit of force.

Bob: Can you hand me my 'mock' vacuum?

Brad: This is a nice vacuum.

Bob: Thanks. Now, what you also don’t want to do, is bending and twisting at the same time. This is very harmful to the back. If you want to hurt your back or if there’s someone you don’t like, and you want them to hurt their back, tell them to bend and twist.

Brad: And then pull on something. Like a lawn mower.

Bob: That would do it. What you’re doing is you’re bending and you’re twisting to pull the mower to get it started. Also, when you are shoveling and then you throw it off to the side. What we teach people is get one of those long handle ones and you push it if it’s snow. If it’s dirt, you shovel and you toss it forward. Keep your back straight. Vacuuming is another problem. They are pushing and twisting and pushing again without moving their feet. A lot of people who are vacuuming and they are cutting corners and they are having back issues; they literally can’t do it.

Brad: I’ll ask patients, what things are you having problems with at home and vacuuming is almost always one of the first things they say.

Bob: I tell people to put the vacuum handle on their hip and then move your body along with the vacuum. Have you ever seen a vacuum before Brad? I don’t even know what they look like.

Brad: Nope! Actually, they make vacuum cleaners now, Kirby does, it’s powered so when you push it it just goes along and when you stop, it stops, when you pull back, it goes back. Those are kind of spendy, though

.Bob: We’ve got the little round Roby that goes around the house and vacuums.

Brad: A robot one.

Bob: Yeah. We call it Roby.

Brad: It’ll suck up your cat and dog and everything else.

Bob: You don’t want to have your cat puke because it’ll spread it all the way around the house.

Brad: Bob knows.

Bob: We found that out. Okay, next one, if you’re stanging in an unsupported forward bent position. Let’s say I’m going over to work with a patient, and they are sleeping right here, and they wake up and I’m going to give them some medicine. So I'm hunched forward leaning toward them. Or let’s say, you’re brushing your teeth bend forward over the sink, it’s really hard on your back. Whenever you can, put a hand down for support to take pressure off the back.

Brad: Well, if you’re brushing your teeth, you might want to just stand up straight.

Bob: Stand up straight or sometimes you open the cupboard and you put your foot in there and it just gets you a little bit closer to the sink so that you don’t have to worry about hurting your spine.

Brad: If you are remodeling your bathroom, make sure that you get the taller vanity. They make them taller now and they make a big difference. I have one upstairs that is tall and an old one downstairs and it clearly feels better on the tall one.

Bob: I used to wash my hair in the sink. I don’t know if people still do that but, in the morning I would wash my hair in the sink, bent over, and that’s a terrible thing on your back. It’s better to put your hand out for support so you can wash your hair with one hand.

Brad: That’s how you got that bald spot.

Bob: Yeah, don’t show that!

Brad: Too many bumps into the faucet.

Bob: I was going to get the sprayed to fit that spot. Next one is a simple one, but we all do it all day long, sitting with a slump posture. This is very common with a couch that is soft. You sit down and you just sink right into it. Here you are, rounded forward all night long, watching your favorite TV show.

Brad: I was just on a couch last week where we rented a cabin, and the couch was terrible. Lucky it had a lot of throw pillows. I was stuffing them behind my back and under my legs and all over to get good posture.

Bob: Yup, and Brad just mentioned it. First thing you want to do is get some throw pillows and get yourself upright so that you’re in a good position.

Brad: Right in your lower back is very commonly the part that’s going to make you feel better.

Bob: If you’re in a car, you’re going to have to go ahead and purchase something to help your back. We start people off with a rolled towel to see what it feels like. There is the a McKenzie support pillow, but there’s a lot of different ones out there. Then there’s a memory foam one, Brad really likes this one.

Brad: Yeah, this one has memory foam and gives you good support because it goes all the way up. If you need it more in a specific place, you’re going to want to go with the roll instead.

Bob: The memory foam I like in my office chair, but I don’t like it in the car. It pushes me forward nicely so when I work, I’m leaning forward a little bit which I like, but I don’t like it in my car.

Brad: Everyone’s a little bit different. My one car it works fantastic. My other car that has a lumbar support, this is a little too thick, so you know, every car, everybody is a little bit different.

Bob: Okay, so we’re up to number 8, Brad. Going back to lifting, a lot of people say, “well, I’m lifting right, I'm bending with my knees.” But then they bend their back and they round it out so do you want to show the three-point system here, Brad? If I’m lifting wrong, there’s just going to be one point of contact.

Brad: See, his back is all rounded out with a lot of force on it.

Bob: So, if I’m lifting right, I’m keeping my back straight, now there’s three points of contact.

Brad: Yes, you’ll have the sacrum, the mid back and the head.

Bob: So, you’ve got to hire a person to walk around with you and put this pole on you to make sure you’re lifting correctly.

Brad: Doesn’t your wife do that for you?

Bob: She does this all day long, (waving the stick), now keep working. Keep doing the honey do list.

Brad: Good thing she doesn’t watch you very often.

Bob: Yeah. Thanks everybody for watching.

Brad: Take Care.

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