Was it a fashion designer? A physical therapist with cataracts? Or perhaps an imprecise nebulist who uttered the expression “Bend at the waist” for the first time?
Whomever the culprit, his command seeped into the collective (sub)consciousness and made many a back unhappy. The problem is that – and peruse the image above- there is no joint in the ‘waist’ area. In fact, there are no joints anywhere between the atlantic-occipital joint (just inside the head, about at you ears) and your sacrum/pelvis. It’s a fluid continuum of vertebrae that are designed to curve, undulate, spiral, but NOT significantly bend nor fold.
Many of us have it in our brain’s body map that the pelvis is separate from the back. We pick up things – from cell phones to couches – by folding at the fictitious waist joint. The spine will reluctantly obey the order, but we are asking it to do something it’s not made to do.
Check out the definition of “waist” below. I was pleasantly surprised to find its root is from a word that ostensibly means “where the body grows.” Much more helpful to think of it as an area that we elongate rather than a place we fold:
Waist (n.) late 14c., “middle part of the body,” also “part of a garment fitted for the waist, portion of a garment that covers the waist” (but, due to fashion styles, often above or below it), probably from Old English *wæst “growth,” hence, “where the body grows.”
Note in the diagram below that the waist and pelvis are very much a part of our back. You can see that we are clearly designed to fold under the pelvis at the hip joints:
So let the major bending and folding take place in the real joints rather than the back. That is how we are designed. If you do so, can greatly decrease discomfort or injury, as well as greatly increasing movement quality. Leave the waist for the fashion designers.