It’s important to get back to basics regarding back safety if you frequently lift heavy objects. The lifting of heavy objects is one of the most common causes of back pain and injury. Being conscious, calculated and intentional about how you move your body when lifting objects is essential. This applies whether you lift objects as part of your job, your favorite hobby or everyday life. Many people are surprised to discover that the proper technique for lifting heavy objects actually looks a little bit different than the way they might instinctually move when lifting. Have you been lifting objects improperly all along? Take a look at tips for avoiding back injuries while lifting objects.
What’s at Stake When You Lift Improperly?
It’s important to understand why lifting heavy objects the right way is so important before covering the techniques to promote safe lifting. You’re actually putting yourself at risk for several different types of injuries when lifting objects improperly. Unfortunately, the back can be slow to heal. For some people, that means that lifting injuries can create issues with pain, mobility and range of motion for years. Here’s a look at the common injury types caused by lifting objects the wrong way:
- Muscle Injuries: A muscle injury commonly occurs when getting out of the proper position during a lift. This shift in your movement can place stress on muscles to the point of tearing. This is often referred to as a muscle strain. Unfortunately, this is one of the most painful injuries. A strained muscle in the back can make it painful to breath for weeks during the healing process.
- Disc Injuries: It’s possible to rupture a disc using the wrong motions. These “cushions” located between the spine’s vertebrae are quite prone to bulging and breaking open with intense, fast motions. A ruptured disc in the back is a very painful injury that can create burning and radiating pain throughout the buttocks and legs.
- Joint Injuries: While joints are quite capable of handling stress under normal conditions, they may be compromised if you use a dangerous lifting technique. Joint injuries caused by lifting typically result from strained movements that cause them to become “locked” in place.
- Broken or Damaged Toes: While not necessarily related to a back injury, lifting objects improperly increases the risk of dropping the object you are carrying. A sudden pain caused by a muscle strain or tearing can cause you to lose your grip. Unfortunately, you may not be able to stop the object from falling directly on your feet and toes. This can create a very serious injury when objects are made of heavy, solid materials.
Yes, one wrong movement can put a wide variety of muscles, discs and joints located throughout your back and the surrounding areas at risk. The good news is that you don’t have to be vulnerable to back injuries just because you’re required to lift objects. Take a look at some simple techniques for smarter lifting to have in the back of your mind.
Tip 1: Treat It Like a Workout
It’s really important to take on the same mindset as an athlete about to hit the field if you’re about to get into position to lift an object. Coming with a stiff stance is an invitation for injury. Begin by doing simple stretches that will help to loosen up your muscles and joints. A person who gets up from a desk to retrieve a freshly delivered box from the front porch has done zero warming up to prepare to lift the box! You simply can’t switch zones so quickly without preparing your body.
Tip 2: Bend at Your Hips
This is the most important rule of all when it comes to safely lifting objects. Never bend at your back to pick up an object. Instead, bend at the hips to crouch down to scoop up the object. When bending at the hips, also be sure to try to keep your upper body as upright as possible. Maintain a posture that is pointing forward at all times. While bending at the hips should greatly reduce your chance of injury while lifting, it’s still very possible to become injured using this stance. That’s why it’s also important to pay attention to other details to try to further reduce your odds of injury.
Tip 3: Point Your Chest Forward
Once bent at the hips, really focus on keeping your back as straight as possible by “puffing” your chest forward. You’ll find that your knees bend very automatically and naturally when you do this. When this occurs, you’ll notice the way your legs and hips actually supply your form with the power needed to lift the object. Be conscious of keeping your chest pointed forward instead of “bending inward” at any point. The goal is to be “straight” and “firm” without necessarily being rigid.
Tip 4: Don’t Twist
Avoid the urge to “twist” to try to get more leverage during lifting. Your shoulders should always stay in line with your hips as you’re lifting. However, you can still change directions when following this rule. Simply allow your hips to guide your shoulders by always moving your hips first when you need to correct your direction.
Tip 5: Hug the Object You’re Lifting
Use your own center of gravity to your advantage when lifting! You’ll actually need to exert more force when you keep the object you’re lifting further away from your body. This force is typically conjured up from the lower-back area. Ideally, you’ll keep the weight of the object you’re lifting as close to your chest as possible.
Being Smart About Lifting
Technique isn’t the only thing to have in your toolkit for preventing back injuries. Common sense can also save you from unnecessary injuries. It’s important to be realistic about what you can actually lift on your own. It’s always better to wait to lift an object with the help of another person than it is to get in a sticky situation. Take a look at some final “best practices” to know about when lifting objects:
- If you lift objects as part of your job, daily stretches and exercises are crucial! It may be worth the effort to learn some professional techniques from a chiropractor or physical trainer if lifting is a part of your job.
- Don’t assume that “back belts” are providing any extra protection. Many people use a belt as a license to lift objects that are way too heavy. In reality, there’s no proof that these belts provide protection from injuries. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)does not recommend the use of back belts to prevent injuries among workers who have never been injured.
- Take breaks between lifting objects.
- Know your limits. Try to avoid lifting objects that exceed 30 percent to 50 percent of your body weight.
- If an object is located above your shoulders, use a ladder or stepstool to get it in the “safe lifting zone” between your shoulders and knees before you lift it.
Finally, never assume that a lifting injury is something that you can just “shake off.” Take a rest if you’ve experienced pain or discomfort during or after a lift. You may benefit from being evaluated if you suspect that something was strained, torn or shifted during movement.