If everything in the bathroom were at chest height, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Unfortunately this is not the case. With a quick look around most bathrooms, you will realize the fixtures (e.g., sink, toilet, bathtub) all require a certain amount of maneuvering to be useful. Let me give you a quick example of what I often hear from my patients: “Well, I got up this morning, walked into the bathroom, and bent over to brush my teeth. Next thing I know, I’m laying on the floor with my back locked up in spasm. Since it is still in spasm please make me feel better or put me out of my misery.” So the question is what happened, and how do we prevent it?
This particular person made the classic mistake of rounding their back while brushing their teeth. This required their back muscles to stretch eccentrically (i.e., the muscle has to contract while simultaneously lengthening) after not moving for several hours while sleeping. Eccentrically stretching muscles that haven’t moved for several hours can be anywhere from uncomfortable to extremely painful. If that isn’t bad enough, bending at the waist creates a significant amount of pressure on the discs in your back.
So here is the Master Rule for the bathroom: Don’t bend at the waist. Instead, bend your knees, keep your back straight and try to stay vertical. So how do we put this principle into practice? A couple of examples follow:
• When you lean over the sink to wash your face or brush your teeth, use your arm to support the weight of your torso. Use a footstool to rest one foot, as this will change the position of the pelvis and decrease the strain on the back. Finally, rather than bending farther forward, make sure you lift the cup of water, toothbrush or wash cloth to your face.
• When you shave or put on make-up in the morning, bring the mirror closer to your face. Don’t lean closer to the mirror.
• While washing your hair, do not lean your torso back or allow your head to drop backward. Included in this is any wild behavior while blow-drying your hair, such as dropping the head and torso forward while ventilating all those follicles.
So remember, for the health of your back try to stay vertical.