The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Change Daily Reaching to Get Ab Exercise and Stop Back and Shoulder Pain

When you lift your arms, do you lean back and increase the arch of your lower back? It is unhealthy body mechanics if you do - photo at right.

Arching your back to raise your arms reduces the stretch and exercise on the shoulder, and increases loading on the lower spine joints and soft tissue.

Do you arch your back to raise your arms? Try this to tell:

  • Stand and reach as high as you can overhead.
  • Notice if you lift your ribs and lean your upper body backward.
  • Check if you stick your backside out in back, or do the opposite and push your hips forward. Both increase the lower back arch which increases load on the joints and soft tissue. You may feel a familiar pressure in the lower back.

Increasing lower back arching may occur automatically, and may seem "natural," but it is not healthy. Wetting your pants is natural too, but you have to learn to control it. To reduce the unhealthy overarching:

  • While standing arched, bring ribs back down to level, and tuck your "tailbone" under you to straighten your hip.
  • The motion is like doing an abdominal crunch standing up. Don't bend your upper body to the front, just "crunch" (or flex) the lower spine to reduce the overarching.
  • Your lower back moves backward, and your "tailbone" tucks straight under you so it is not tilted out in back.

Now reach up overhead again holding the new straighter position. Feel how the reach needs to come from your shoulder instead of your lower back. Keep shoulders relaxed downward, and don't crane or tense your neck.

It is common for people to push their hip forward, thinking that is what is meant by "tuck the hip." That makes arching worse. Don't push your entire hip forward, just roll the bottom under. This motion is also called a "pelvic tilt." See the tilt in the photo in post Throw a Stronger Punch (or Push a Car or Stroller) Using This Back Pain Reduction Technique.

Watch other people when they reach overhead for exercise and daily life, and notice fitness magazines picturing overhead moves. See how often they increase the arch of their lower back. It is important to be able to tell when positioning is unhealthy, not just follow a bunch of strange rules about how to stand and exercise.

The next time you are in the shower washing your head, notice if you are leaning backward, and remember this article and concept. Reduce the overly large lower back arch back to normal/neutral, using the tucking/tilting move described above. Feel how the pinching pressure is reduced in your lower back. The muscles that work to flex your lower spine forward enough to reduce over-arching are your abdominal muscles. By preventing unhealthy over-arching each time you reach up, you will get built-in abdominal exercise and better shoulder stretch, and stop the source of much "mystery" lower back pain.

See more helpful info in:


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Photo by Dan Mogford, Creative Commons
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.