Humans were made to move (otherwise, we’d be statues), so we often walk, squat, bend and perform other movements on autopilot, doing what comes naturally to us. But over the years, bad movement habits can sneak into the picture, often without our being aware of them. “What happens is the body naturally changes with aging — strength and flexibility decrease — and the person can’t compensate for the changes,” says Robert Gillanders, a physical therapist in Charlottesville, Virginia.
As a result, you might adopt ways of moving that let you work around a decline in strength or flexibility or that allow you to avoid discomfort that might occur with proper movement form. The trouble is, these movement mistakes can lead to pain and injuries. Here’s a close look at specific movement mistakes people often make as they get older, with advice on how to correct them.
1. Mistake: Bending from the waist or rounding your lower back to pick up something from the floor.
This may feel like the easy way to reach a low point. But the problem is, “patterns of movement where the spine isn’t in its natural alignment can cause strain to structures like the intervertebral discs,” Gillanders says. This can also strain muscles and ligaments, any or all of which can lead to back pain.
How to correct it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and “do a hip hinge like a bow in karate, then continuously bend from the hips and knees,” advises Jake Steffes, a physical therapist with Northwestern Medicine in the Chicago area. By bending from the hips and knees, you can tighten your core muscles to protect your back and use your legs to lift something from the floor, load or unload the dishwasher, or get laundry out of the dryer.
2. Mistake: Initiating a squat movement from the knees, rather than the hips.
At first blush, this may seem to contradict the advice just given. But when you begin a squat movement by bending your knees, this places a lot of load and strain on the knees, warns Sherri Betz, a physical therapist in private practice in Monroe, Louisiana and a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. Besides causing knee pain, this habit can also lead to back pain.