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Disease & Conditions >>> Back Pain Articles & News

Avoid Back Injury With The Right Lifting Techniques

Many people believe they know how to lift properly and safely. They are then in disbelief when they injure their back during a “simple” lift. After getting a back injury from lifting, many people will comment, “but I even bent my knees!” Therefore, there must be more to safe lifting than just bending the knees.

There are three ways that people tend to get a back injury from lifting:

Muscle injury
Getting out of position during lifting can put a great deal of stress on the lower back muscles, and when the demand is too high on a muscle it can be injured. Too much stress can form tiny tears in a muscle, known as a muscle strain, which is a very common form of back injury.

This type of back injury can be quite painful, making it difficult to move the affected and surrounding area. When a back muscle is strained, it can even be painful to breathe normally. A back strain will typically heal, although it often takes a long time (a few weeks or months).

Disc injury
The intervertebral discs act like ball bearings and cushions between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine. The discs are comprised of fibrous rings, which can bulge and even break open, or rupture, when injured. A disc injury in the lower back can cause pain that may radiate down into the buttocks and/or leg.

Joint injury
There are many joints where bones meet bones in the back. Normally theses joints are quite capable of handling the stresses of lifting. However, improper lifting techniques, even with lightweight objects, can irritate these joints and may cause them to become “locked.”

Three easy rules to avoid back injury

Keep the chest forward
Always be sure to bend at the hips - not the low back. Most people believe bending their knees will ensure a safe lift, but this form alone can still lead to a back injury. The most important tip is to bend the hips and push the chest out, pointing forward. Also, one should never twist.

Bending the knees alone will still allow a person to curve the back and risk and injury, but keeping the chest pointing forward will guarantee a straight back. The back muscles will then be used most effectively for maintaining good posture, as they are designed to do. The knees will bend automatically so the muscles of the legs and hips will produce the power for lifting correctly.

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Lead with the hips, not the shoulders.
Twisting is another dangerous mistake that can lead to back injury. The shoulders should be kept in line with the hips to avoid this movement. For changing directions, move the hips first so the shoulders will move in unison. When moving the shoulders first, the hips tend to lag behind creating the dangerous twisting that can cause back injury, especially to the joints in the back and pelvis.

Keep the weight close to the body.
The further an object is held from one’s center of gravity, the more force required to hold that object up. For example, for most people it is not too difficult to hold a gallon of milk close to the chest, but it can be quite difficult to hold a gallon of milk stretched out in front at arm’s reach. Of course, the milk does not get heavier when it is further from the body, but it does require much more force to hold it up. This extra force will also run through the lower back. Therefore, the closer the object is to one’s body, the less likely it is to lead to back injury.

If the object is too wide to get it between the knees when lifting, consider getting help from another person instead of trying to lift it alone. Larger objects require lifting at a long reach and increase the load on one’s back just like an improper lift technique.

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