How to sneeze!

man doing a calf stretch against a wall

I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about the best way to cope with a sneeze to minimise the chances of irritating your back. So this piece is not about sneezing from a hygiene point of view (using a hankie, tissue, etc.).

Sneezing is far more vigorous than coughing. According to some estimates, at least four to five times so. Repeated coughing can cause a build-up of problems for the spine (especially the thoracic or mid-spine), but a single sneeze can wreak havoc.

So here are some simple tips if you are about to sneeze.

Best is to lean against a wall or door and take as much weight through your arms as you can before you sneeze, like the guy in the picture above.

Ideally, you would have both legs back. The picture shows him doing a calf muscle stretch; it was the only one I could find!

But if you don’t have a wall or desk nearby, then place your hands on your knees, keep your back straight, and push your bottom right back, with your head levels with your spine.

If at all possible;

  • don’t sneeze partly bent over without supporting your weight
  • don’t hold your nose to abort the developing sneeze
  • and don’t sneeze while twisted

In the ‘best’ positions described above, these significant forces are controlled or dissipated away from the spinal structures in the low back.

In the worst cases, they are not, and damage can occur to already vulnerable discs, muscles and facet joints.

If you have any concerns about your back and have to choose between a hygienic sneeze and a safe ‘spine’ sneeze, go for the latter.