There’s no doubt you’ve heard of the saying, “Lift with your legs.” For many of us, our lifting technique is a mixture of the quickest and easiest maneuvers to get the job done. Basically, you’re sacrificing technique for time. More importantly, you’re trading what you deem to be ‘easier’ for the safety of your spine. Poor lifting form is one of the leading causes of low back pain. In 2011, 30% of work-related low back injuries involved lifting. In fact, some individuals will actually hurt their back before they even retrieve an object for a lift. Whether it’s heavy or repetitive lifting, your technique is crucial.
In the past, it was thought that the weight of an object being lifted was the main contributor to low back pain. Recent research has shown that heavy lifting contributes to the frequency and intensity of back pain. However, heavy lifting is not the only contributor. Lifting speed, spine positioning, repeated forward bending, and trunk rotation are other contributors to low back pain. Of the 5 factors, positioning of your spine is the most modifiable to preventing low back pain. While bending forward seems like second nature, it creates havoc for the spine. As we bend forward, the pressure in our discs intensifies up to 100%. Keep in mind this is before you reach to lift a child, box, or other object. Bending and twisting increases disc pressure 400%. Again, this is before you add a weighted object to the mix. Maintaining the natural curve of your spine protects it. So whether you’re retrieving a light object, heavy box, or squirming child, technique is king.
How to Lift
1. Plan Ahead: This is fairly obvious, but asking for assistance it crucial for objects that are too heavy or positioned awkwardly. This is especially true for those who have ongoing low back troubles. The extra few minutes it takes to get help can prevent months of physical therapy.
2. Butt Back- Chest Forward: Keeping the natural curve of your low back will protect it and also engage your legs. Get your butt back and your chest forward. Prevent your knees from shooting out past your toes.
3. Lift With Your Legs: Lift the object using your powerful leg muscles instead of your weak back muscles. This is the key factor in preventing low back injuries. You’ll actually push your butt forward when performing the lift.
4. Keep the Object Close: You are more stable in this position, and it will minimize the stress on the spine.
5. Do NOT: Combine lifting with bending and twisting through the back. This combination places the most stress on your spine.
For a number of reasons, not all of us can perform the recommended technique. For some strength or range of motion may be the limiting factors. For others, you’ve hardwired your nervous system into poor habits. Your bending has become automatic and until you slow down, focus, and consciously improve your lifting technique, you’ll continue to place devastating forces through your spine. A physical therapist can not only help you identify your limiting factors, but also ensure your technique is correct. Whether you’re moving boxes at work, leashing your dog, lifting a child, or picking up the morning newspaper, following these tips will help you protect your spine.