Jun 062012

I’d been putting off the annual task of emptying the compost heap, because the repeated twisting involved in digging up the compost and loading into the wheel barrow lands me with a sore back.

I know to protect my lower back by bending my knees before digging and lifting, it’s the twisting that bothers my back.

With all four compost heaps full to the brim, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I made a start with the intention of working slowly, so I wouldn’t strain my susceptible sacro-iliac joints that complain when I repeatedly twist my back.

Somehow I had a feeling that I’d find a way not to strain my back this year….

…then I remembered one of the principles we’re taught in Tai Chi – to always keep shoulders and hips in line, and move them together as a unit. So, putting that into practice I adjusted my usual routine of :

  • dig the compost
  • twist my shoulders and the top of my body, so that – with some discomfort – I could
  • drop the soil into the wheelbarrow.


  • dig the soil
  • step my feet round, so my whole body moved round and my shoulders and hips stayed in line, so that I could easily
  • drop the soil into the wheel barrow.

Using my feet to turn my whole body, rather than twist my spine by only moving my shoulders, took a little longer, and at first this was somewhat frustrating. However, with practice, I was able to speed up this new routine.

The best part was that after an hour or so of emptying compost from the heap into the wheelbarrow, my back made no complaint, and I was equally comfortable the next day. Bliss!

If your back isn’t happy with a lot of twisting, how can you alter the way move, so that you move your whole body round?

Several years ago there was another situation where I learned to protect my sacro-iliac joints – in the swivel chair I use to sit at my computer. At the time it took me a while to track down my sore sacro-iliac joints to swivelling my shoulders round in advance of the chair moving – introducing a twist into my spine. Soon after I started to keep my shoulders and hips aligned as I swivelled, the discomfort disappeared.

The Delicious Nugget: Protect your back from repeated twisting by moving your whole body round, keeping your shoulders and hips aligned as one unit.

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  6 Responses to “Protect Your Back From Twisting”

  1. Many thanks for this tip–I have just realised why I suffer–back and (R) hip after shopping with my mother–I have lots of bags to transfer from trolley to car boot and I am now aware of what I do wrong–twist without moving my feet/legs. Will now ensure I keep shoulders and hips in line by moving my feet and not twisting–Thanks–all well here–will also point out the tip to Martin for his gardening

    • Well spotted about twisting on your shopping trips, Rosalind! I hope less twisting proves beneficial for you, and for Martin’s gardening too.

  2. Thanks May. Sounds like one solution to avoid twisting your back. What about wanting to restore/limber the natural twist between lower and upper body? There’s an exercise in Aikido warmups I remember which is an almost passive, gentle way to limber the twist. This puts the leading power in your hips and plants your feet firmly in the ground.

    Stand firmly with your feet a little more than hip width apart. Relax your arms at your sides. The action is powered entirely from the hips, while everything else, being relaxed, follows. The movement is to lead with your hips only, swinging round to one side, and when it’s done, you bounce them once again, then return to the front. Then you swing your hips to the other side, with the same 1-2 bounce. If your arms are relaxed, they follow close behind and sort of wrap around your body with each bounce.

    A variation is to start with your elbows bent and out parallel to the ground. Still leading with the hips, your elbows follow and twist you round, with the same 1-2 bounce, then the other side, etc…

    Even many years since I first learned this exercise, it still gently limbers my spine and lets me lead with my hips and not “my head” and shoulders as I tend to do.


    • Thank you Celeste for explaining the ‘limbering the twist’ exercise. ‘Leading with the hips’ is a great way to convey the essence of the movement. Do you allow the shoulders to keep moving past the hips, thus allowing the spine to twist?

      I do agree that it’s beneficial to keep our backs supple in all directions, including twisting, and some of the ‘twisting’ yoga asanas do that too.

      At the same time, if once a year I’m going to twist some 50 times in one direction as I empty the compost heap, I’ll keep protecting my back too!

      • Yes, in a way, you don’t control anything but your hips, other than to stand erect, but relaxed, letting the arms hang limply. You give a little bounce after each “fling” of the hips, and when they (you) return, your body doesn’t stop at centre but continues on the other way, and you use this momentum to fling-bounce the other side. It feels really good too.

        There’s another one like this, done exactly the same way, but starting by holding your arms in front of your chest, palms down, and leading with your elbows in conjunction with your hips (which still power the whole thing.)

        • Thanks for the further explanation, Celeste. I’ve just given your limbering exercise a try with the bounce, and it does indeed feel good, and that my spine is loosening. I’m going to try it each day, with the intention of limbering my spine …

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