The definition of a stooped posture is working at or below knee level for an extended period of time. This type of work includes concrete flat work or tile setting in construction, or harvesting row crops in agriculture. Other examples of a stooped posture include stocking low shelves or changing bed linens in a hotel or hospital room.
It is well documented that bending over at the waist, also known as trunk flexion, is bad for your low back. This is because the weight of the upper body is away from the body’s center of gravity and places stress on the soft tissues (muscle, tendons, and even spinal disks) of the low back. Although the spine is able to endure some degree of bending, the frequency and/or duration of bending may eventually wear the low back down. While occasional lifting of reasonable weights can often be tolerated for many years without problems, frequently working in a stooped posture may cause damage much more quickly. Over time, many job requirements, as well as numerous activities outside of work that require frequent bending, take a toll on our backs.
Using your knees helps protect your back
So what is a reasonable alternative to bending? The simple answer is kneeling, although it is often not employed as it can be perceived as more painful than bending. If a worker’s knees are already in bad shape, or the surface being kneeled on is hard or uneven, the potential discomfort will quickly steer them away from this option. If the worker can kneel in comfort, their back will stay balanced throughout this ground level work task. In trades like tile setting, where the worker must move around on a hard surface for extended periods of time, hard shell knee pads are usually the only option. Though many types and styles exist, nearly all of them attach with some kind of strap or binding behind the knee, making them uncomfortable to wear for all but short periods of time.
Padding provides more protection
New options exist which promise to overcome the drawbacks posed by traditional kneeling jobs. Insertable knee pads can be placed into work pants with specially-designed pockets over the knee area. They are perfect for those occasional kneeling tasks, but aren’t bulky and objectionable when the user is not in a kneeling position. Another option is the use of kneeling mats. These are light and portable, and can be placed over virtually any type of surface to provide a comfortable, stable mat to work from.