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6 Things an Orthopedic Surgeon Wants You to Stop Doing

We all have bad habits, such as eating junk food instead of vegetables or staying up too late scrolling on social media.

But there are orthopedic bad habits too, and they can lead to injury to the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic injuries are among the most common reasons for visits to emergency departments, but they don’t have to be. Most orthopedic injuries can be avoided, but you have to be aware of some risky habits you might have.

UNC Health orthopedic surgeon Robert F. Ostrum, MD, shares six no-nos to avoid.

1. Never cut a bagel while holding it in your hand.

Nearly 2,000 people cut their fingers or hands cutting bagels every year, Dr. Ostrum says. (This rule also applies to avocados, apples and anything else you hold and cut.)

More tips from Dr. Ostrum: Don’t cut frozen bagels; thaw them first. And always use a serrated knife—not a smooth one.

“Lay it flat on the table, so it’s sitting flat with your hand on top and cut parallel to the table,” Dr. Ostrum says. “And make sure you’re paying attention.”

That last part is key and of course applies doubly when working with power tools, he adds. “With things like saws and drills, you need to pay strict attention and not have your attention elsewhere.”

2. Don’t lift heavy objects using your back muscles.

Very few of us lift heavy things the right way, Dr. Ostrum says. And when done incorrectly, you can throw out your back, strain a muscle or get severely injured if the object falls on you. Using your knees rather than your back will prevent back injury.

“Make sure you can actually lift up what it is you’re planning to lift, and make sure there’s a clear path if you’re going to be lifting and carrying something,” Dr. Ostrum says.

If someone is helping you, make sure you can both agree on the way you’re going to go and then lift the item close to your body.

“You don’t want it out far away from your body,” Dr. Ostrum says. “You want to be stable with your feet in line with your shoulders and bend at the knees. You should be using your quadriceps in your thighs rather than using your back muscles to pull things up.”

3. Don’t hunch over your computer.

The average person spends eight hours a day in front of a screen, most of which is a computer screen. The effects of bad posture go far beyond just looking awkward. Poor posture can lead to chronic pain conditions including lower back pain and neck-related headaches.

To avoid pain or injury, Dr. Ostrum suggests the following:

  • Make sure your eyes are at the level of the computer monitor. You shouldn’t be looking up or down.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed, not hunched.
  • Your lower arms should be parallel to the floor and resting on a table.
  • Keep your wrist straight while typing. Bending your wrists can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Place your keyboard so that you don’t have to reach to type, which can strain your back.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Take frequent breaks to stand up, stretch and walk around.
  • Do exercises to pull shoulder blades together and bring shoulders up and down so muscles do not get tight.
  • Make sure your desk chair has good back support. If not, your muscles are supporting your back the whole time you’re sitting, which can cause muscle spasms, tightness in your back and back pain.

4. Don’t use a ladder or go on your roof if you’re alone.

Two-fifths of all major falls in the United States are off of roofs and ladders, Dr. Ostrum says. Falling from an elevated height can cause serious injuries.

The most common time for these falls is during the holidays when people are putting up Christmas lights.

“They think they can get two or three more (light strands) up before they have to move the ladder, and they lean a little bit too much,” Dr. Ostrum says.

Falls also often occur in the fall when people are cleaning leaves out of their gutters.

To avoid falls, put the ladder on a flat, level surface. When you have it on the ground, make sure it doesn’t wobble. If possible, it’s best to have someone at the bottom stabilizing the ladder.

“Have a buddy system where somebody’s around to help you in case you fall or in case you’re having issues up there,” Dr. Ostrum says. “They can get you things so you don’t have to keep coming up and down.”

5. Don’t take your balance for granted as you age.

Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 or older. Every year, about 3 million older adults are treated in the emergency department for injuries from falling, Dr. Ostrum says.

To prevent falls, older adults must make adjustments and be vigilant. An exercise routine to maintain balance and strength is important. Consider using a cane or walker if you feel unsteady.

Also, be sure you can see well when moving around. This means having your eyes checked regularly, wearing corrective lenses, if needed, and keeping your home well lit.

Ask your doctor if any of your medications can cause blurry vision, difficulty seeing at night or dizziness, all of which can lead to a fall. Blood pressure medication, in particular, can cause dizziness.

“If your medications make you lightheaded or dizzy or affect your balance, talk to your physician and see if they can be changed,” Dr. Ostrum says.

People with osteoporosis are at a higher risk of injury from falling and need to be especially careful.

To help prevent falls, Dr. Ostrum suggests the following:

  • Make sure floor coverings such as carpets and rugs have rubber on the bottom.
  • Wear shoes with rubber soles when walking on hardwood floors.
  • Handrails should be on all the stairways, and you should use the handrail when you’re going up and down.
  • Place handrails in bathrooms.
  • Watch out for things such as electric cords or phone lines that you could trip over.

6. Don’t push through the pain when working out.

Exercise can be a challenge, but it isn’t supposed to hurt, particularly not in your joints.

If you feel pain in your hip, knee or another joint when exercising or even at rest, it could be a sign of early arthritis, Dr. Ostrum says. Get it checked out and see if modifying your exercises helps. Look for activities that are not weight-bearing, such as swimming or biking instead of running.

“Both of them will get your muscles working. Both of them will get your heart rate up, but swimming and biking won’t be loading the joints,” Dr. Ostrum says. “Once you get early arthritis or damage to the cartilage in your knee, if you continue to run on that even when it hurts, you probably are accelerating the degenerative changes in your knee.”


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