Lifting is a daily activity that one can simply not get away from, and performs without thinking – whether in the home, workplace, sports or recreational environments. It is hard to imagine that such a simple daily activity can be hazardous to your health, but it can. Improper or frequent heavy lifting is responsible for most back and sciatica problems. It can also aggravate any existing problems.
A physical therapist (PT) is the best person to consult and get advice from about proper and safe lifting techniques. He will observe and assess your habits and recommend changes as necessary to prevent injury. Your PT can help you avoid short and long-term back, muscle and disc problems including pain in lower back, shoulder, arm and wrist.
What Happens to the Body with Improper Lifting?
Frequent heavy lifting or bending forward or down places stress on the body, can bring on chronic back pain and limit your range of motion. At the minimum, it imposes undue wear and tear on the spine, joints and muscles.
Bending while lifting even light loads forces the forward curvature of the spine – lordosis – to reverse, putting heavy pressure on the spinal discs which can be displaced, herniated or ruptured, bringing on pain and sciatica.
It is easy to twist the spine when lifting, especially if the movement is sudden, abruptly changes direction, and is done with legs and knees held straight. This carries risks for disc herniation injuries.
Simply sitting can be one of the worst positions for your back. Sitting applies pressure on discs and locks hip joints. This pressure wears out discs and can cause an injury. Rigid hip joints result in tight back muscles and reduced flexibility in your spine resulting in pain.
Physical therapists provide invaluable help and guidance in avoiding chronic problems by showing you how to lift safely and painlessly.
Safe Lifting Techniques my PT Showed Me
Take the activity of lifting seriously and plan for it like you do any other safety routine for your health.
Plan. Understand and know what, when, how and where you will carry out this lifting activity. Know the weight and avoid sudden, twisting movements. Make sure there are no unseen obstacles in your path. If you have a partner, share your plan and get agreement.
Lift Close. If you hold the load firmly balanced against or close to your body (between shoulders and waist), rather than far out, you can apply more strength and stability, and avoid shoulder strain.
Feet. Keeping feet braced shoulder-width apart and taking short steps gives more stability and balance.
Knees and Back. Stretch back and legs prior to lifting. Keep spine straight. Bend knees, not waist or hips, while raising and lowering the load. Don’t let go till load is securely placed.
Abdomen. Keeping abdominal muscles tight places your back in proper lifting stance and reduces undue pressure on the spine.
Legs. Your legs are much stronger than your back muscles. Using hips, legs and knees to lift is safer and healthier for your spine.
Eyes. Look up to maintain good spinal position and your back straight.
Face. Face forward while walking with your load. Don’t suddenly twist to turn. Stop, turn whole body gradually, keep shoulders and hips aligned and walk forward.
Help. Don’t lift heavy or awkward objects alone. Find a lift buddy. Or use a hand truck, cart or dolly. Balance the load and push (do not pull), the load. Use step stools/ladders to reach loads above your shoulders. Rotate tasks and work in teams to vary and distribute the work.
Rest. Carrying or holding even light items for a long period of time increases risk of back and shoulder injury. Muscles get exhausted, starved of nutrients and a build-up of waste products can occur. Divide loads into smaller quantities, and allow the body to rest in between to avoid the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and accidents.
Store. Materials requiring manual lifting and transportation should be stored at mid-thigh to mid-chest levels (called the power zone), on shelves, tables, pallets or racks rather than on the floor, to minimize lifting and carrying strain.
During the course of our daily life, we forget about spinal safety specially if we are not in pain at the moment. But maintaining body health and preventing future discomfort or injury depends on our daily habits from the beginning.
Every lifestyle routine or habit adds up over time and contributes to your physical condition. Exercising regularly, really thinking about your activities and employing good body mechanics will ensure mobility and pain free living in the future.
If lifting is a regular part of your life, consult a physical therapist for the best advice. Or call Endeavor Rehab Center at (512) 284-7192 or request an appointment online today.