Two seemingly simple moves send many shoppers to their doctors’ offices with back pain: bending and twisting. When people repeatedly bend and twist while shopping—especially when carrying heavy loads—it strains their spinal muscles, joints, and discs, said Michael Simone, DC, a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and chiropractor in Ft. Lupton, CO.
Squatting is Your Friend
If bending and twisting are the enemies of the spine, Dr. Simone said squatting is its best friend. Whereas bending and twisting puts pressure on the spine, squatting strengthens it. “Squat as much as you can instead of bending and twisting,” he said. “When you put items into a trunk or cart, stay upright with your chest out and knees slightly bent. See how a catcher gets up and down—that squat position would take care of a lot injuries I see during the holidays.”
How Poor Shopping Habits Hurt Your Back
A single shopping trip with lots of bending and twisting isn’t going to cause life-long problems with your spine, Dr. Simone said. The issue, he said, is the habit of putting wear and tear on your back.
“When someone ruptures a disc, it’s not caused by simply picking up a heavy package,” he said. “It has been coming on for years—every time you bend and twist at the waist, when you do these day-to-day things.”
When you bend and twist and start to come up, the amount of pressure on your back can be as high as 1,500 pounds of pressure, Dr. Simone said. “And you don’t have to be holding something heavy—that pressure occurs even when you’re not picking up anything,” he said.
Dr. Simone said that it’s a person’s body weight from the waist to the head that causes the most damage to your lower back when you repeatedly bend and twist.
When you do lots of activity in a short period of time without proper form or warming up, it causes micro-tears in your muscles, Dr. Simone said. And, when you tear a muscle cell, it is often gone for good.
Bending and twisting puts a lot of pressure on your back, and years of poor shopping ergonomics can contribute to significant spinal problems later in life.
“After 15 or 20 years, you’ll have disc problems and arthritis, because those tears and resulting scar tissue contribute to an overall weaker back,” he said.
9 Spine-Safe Shopping Tips
Banishing the bend-and-twist move in favor of a squat is Dr. Simone’s top piece of advice for spine-safe shopping, but he shared some other tips below:
Tip #1. Leave your purse in the car. “Purses are surprisingly heavy, and they get in the way,” Dr. Simone said. “Just bring in your money and phone to cut the added weight and stress.”
Tip #2. Rent a baby stroller to haul your purchases. Most malls have strollers for rent, and they aren’t just for babies. Dr. Simone said pushing your items around in a stroller instead of holding them puts far less pressure on your back.
Tip #3. Put your purchases in a backpack. If you’re picking up a few items, putting them in a backpack is an ergonomic option. “A backpack helps strengthen the muscles in your back and keeps your shoulders from moving forward,” Dr. Simone said.
Tip #4. Spread out the shopping trips. Planning to get all your holiday shopping done in one mega trip? That might set you up for pain the next morning. “Lots of shopping in a short period of time makes things worse,” Dr. Simone said. A few lighter, shorter trips keeps stress low, allowing you to focus on properly taking care of yourself while out and about.
Tip #5. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. “It’s amazing how many people still wear high heels while shopping,” Dr. Simone said. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes for long walks through the mall. Also, avoid tight clothing, which can prevent you from using the proper posture for lifting and placing items from cart to car.
Tip #6. Go shopping at off-peak hours, particularly during the holidays. Dr. Simone said this avoids the top shopping risk to your spine: auto accidents. “When lots of people are out shopping and driving stressed through parking lots, there are a lot of rear-end accidents,” he said.
Tip #7. Ask for help if you’re purchasing an item that’s heavy, odd-shaped, or hard to reach. “People are afraid to ask for help,” Dr. Simone said. “Be more patient, ask for help, and don’t try to do it yourself.”
Tip #8. Leave the kids at home. “It helps avoid added stress,” Dr. Simone said.
Tip #9. Take advantage of gift wrap services. Dr. Simone said wrapping presents can be hard on your back. “When you wrap gifts on the floor, the weight of your body when you bend forward alters your center of gravity and takes a toll on your low back,” he said. Keep an eye out for in-store gift wrap services—many at low or no cost—to eliminate any risk to your spine.
Simple Changes Matter for the Spine
Dr. Simone said that the simple act of adopting a squat position over a bend-and-twist approach is the single best thing shoppers can do for their back health. You might not notice how bending and twisting during shopping affects you today, but it may have a major impact on your spinal health down the road. If you have questions about how to perform the proper squat form while shopping, ask your personal doctor or spine specialist.