Mechanics of Reaching

The Mechanics of Reaching

Body mechanics are the natural ways that we move our bodies. Performing sound body mechanics at work and home can stop many of the causes of muscle and joint injuries. To minimise these types of injuries, it is important that we learn some basic techniques, and have a clearer understanding of the body mechanics in action.

The proper mechanics of ‘reaching’ probably has less literature/research available when compared to the mechanics of lifting and carrying, sitting and standing. Regardless of these concerns, there are still major accidents and injuries associated with poor mechanics when reaching for objects (1).

Many professions such as nursing, physiotherapy and care work have to follow safety guidelines when performing ‘reaching’ tasks. Therefore, if we adopt their professional guidelines in the home, it could stop people from ‘over-reaching’ e.g. standing on tip toes and putting tins in the top kitchen cupboard. This would prevent poor body mechanics, alignment and stability, when reaching for objects at home. Plus, some Swiss Ball exercises have been added to help you to improve your overall balance, stability and posture by targeting the core muscles. Let’s explore all of this in more detail…

The Proper Mechanics of Reaching

  • Stand close to the objective that you are reaching for this (this prevents over-reaching)
  • Never reach for objects that are out of your support base
  • Never over extend your arms when reaching for an object, as this reduces stability
  • Your feet should be shoulder width apart with toes facing forwards
  • Balance your bodyweight equally on both legs
  • Never lean to one side
  • Slightly move one foot backwards in a straight line (this termed the stagger stance)
  • Have a slight bend in each knee
  • Engage your core muscles and keep your back aligned with the natural ‘S’ shaped curve
  • Keep your head in the neutral position and your chin parallel with the floor
  • Never bend at the waist as this puts pressure on the lower back
  • Never, bend, twist or strain to reach an object
  • Know your physical limits and ensure that the object it not too heavy for you
  • Use proper breathing control and take your time.

Making Reaching Easier

If you are reaching above head height, then use a step stool for safety and ask for help if you really need it. If the objects are above your head, raise and/or lower it very slowly and under control. If you avoid overhead reaching, then do so, as it can be potentially dangerous and cause injuries. For the heavy and most regularly used objects try to store them at waist height. This makes it easier to move towards the object and pull it towards the body, whilst maintaining a good posture. Lighter and less regularly used objects can be stored in higher storage spaces. When, lifting the item down off a high storage point, a top tip is to tilt the load on its edge, so the centre of gravity of the load is as high as possible above the floor.

The Cost of Poor Mechanics

When reaching, never hyperextend any muscle group, as this pulls the body out of alignment and decrease your stability. Moving closer to the objects ensure that your centre of gravity is not misaligned and the major muscles don’t over extend. Over extending the muscle and joints are major causes of tissue, tendon and muscle damage (2). Stability is also very important as falls account for 8 million visits to the hospital each year; this costs about $50,000 dollars per person for treatment and rehabilitation (3). 60% of these falls occur from the same level, hip fractures are the most serious injuries and this can lead to the greatest health problems and number of deaths (3).

Body Alignment and Stability

Always keep the correct body alignment when reaching for objects, never twist, bend or stretch for the object, as this puts additional stress and strain on your back. By moving closer to the object, should prevent this from happening and reduce the load on the muscle, joints and discs of the back. When reaching for any object, engage the longest and strongest muscles (biceps, deltoids, glutes and quads). This helps you to reach for the object more efficiently, and gives you a solid base to operate from.

The staggered stance ensures firm contact with the floor, a solid base and you will feel ‘grounded’. Being ‘grounded’ does prevent injuries, as stability, keeping your body aligned and not overextending the major muscles.- ensures that you are another accident statistic.

The Magic of the Stagger Stance

By slightly moving one foot backwards, allows you to shift your bodyweight forwards and backwards when reaching. It is a comfortable stance that takes the strain off the neck and lower back muscles and joints. The pelvis is in a more neutral position and this engages the larger muscles of the lower body e.g. quads (thighs) and glutes (butt). This increases stability and takes away the excessive stress placed on the lower back. By transferring your bodyweight via the stagger stance, you can keep objects closer to you. This further reduces the load on the lower back and you will have better control and stability of the body.

When the feet are side by side, the core muscles are used for forward reaching movements and to maintain stability. The further that you reach the more stress is placed on the core and back muscles. When reaching, the stagger stance ensures you can shift your bodyweight forwards effectively. This keeps the object within range and minimises the counterbalance needed to keep the body stabilised. This also allows you to reach overhead with less stress on the shoulder and neck muscles!

Swiss Ball Exercises

One of the best ways to reduce injuries in the body is to stabilise and strengthen the core. The core is a major component throughout all of the mechanics of reaching and it helps with balancing, stability and keeping the posture aligned. Why not try these 6 ‘Swiss Ball’ exercises, as this piece of equipment is cheap to buy and has the following benefits:

  • It increases the body’s ability to stabilize and generate from the core e.g. the deep abdominals, the hip muscles and the shoulder stabilisers
  • It increases the core strength stability
  • It Improves overall balance, stability and posture
  • It reduces the pressure on the lower back, upper and lower body when you use it.

The 6 Swiss Ball Exercises

1. Ball Crunch

Advice on Technique

  • Have the Swiss Ball under the lower back
  • Knees at 90 degrees with feet shoulder width apart, facing forward and flat on the floor
  • Cross arms over chest
  • Slowly crunch upper body forward, raising shoulders off ball until you feel the abs are working
  • Hold for 3 seconds
  • Slowly lower upper body over the ball, returning to the start position.

2. Swiss Ball Jack Knife

Advice on Technique

  • Start in the press up position with the Swiss Ball
  • The ball should be in contact with the ankles and the arms holding all of the body weight.
  • Roll the Swiss Ball towards your hips by bending your knees, have a short pause and then return to the starting position.
  • Exhale when rolling the exercise ball towards the hips, and inhale in when rolling the ball back to the starting position.
  • Through the exercise contract your core upwards your back.

3. Swiss Ball Bridge T Fall-Off

Advice on Technique

  • Lie with your shoulder on top of the Swiss Ball with your arms extended into the T position to stabilise the body.
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor, with your knees at 90 degrees.
  • Ensure that your back is straight and that your core is tight
  • Roll of the ball slightly to one side, with the ball remaining in between your shoulders.
  • Pause and then go back to the starting position.
  • Regain your starting form and then move to the opposite side.
  • Repeat exercise, and try to achieve a smooth rolling rhythm without any jerkiness.

4. Swiss Ball Table Top

Advice on Technique

  • Have the weight bearing position on your knees with the elbow and forearms in contact with the Swiss Ball
  • Your back should be straight and engage your core muscles by contracting them
  • Extend your legs fully and the knees will lift, your elbows should be at 90 degrees
  • After a short pause, flex your knees so that they are in contact with the floor again and in the starting position
  • Repeat exercise, and try to achieve a smooth rolling rhythm without any jerkiness.

5. Swiss Ball Leg Raises

Advice on Technique

  • Lie on your back with the Swiss Ball between your lower legs
  • Hands slightly out by your side to support yourself
  • Keep the stomach muscles engaged to protect your lower back
  • Lift your legs with the Swiss ball until your hips are about 90 degrees
  • Hold this position briefly then return your legs to the starting position.

6. Swiss Ball Side Crunch

Advice on Technique

  • Lie with the Swiss Ball against your side, with your leg straight and feet wide enough apart to support/balance your body weight
  • Your fingers should be in contact with your temples on your hand and elbows in line with the ears
  • Lift your upper body from the Swiss Ball and lower it back down after about 2 seconds
  • Contract your core muscles and try to keep your back straight
  • Alternate each side and repeat when necessary.

References

  1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2653/
  2. Chang hua Huang et al. (2002). Synergic analysis of upper limb target-reaching movements. Journal of Biomechanics. Volume 35, Issue 6.
  3. Terry P Haines et al. (2013). Cost effectiveness of patient education for the prevention of falls in hospital: economic evaluation from a randomized controlled trial BMC Medicine11:135