Untold musculoskeletal injuries occur every day when people lift heavy or even slightly heavy objects without following the proper techniques.
Even a so-called simple task of lifting a box from the ground to place on a higher level such as a shelf or table can cause muscle and back strain.
Remember this simple rule when lifting: Never bend from your waist when standing upright to pick up something. Keep your back straight and crouch first by bending at the knees or hips, depending on where the item is that you are lifting. This allows your arms and shoulder muscles, not your back, to do the brunt of the work.
Back injuries from improper lifting techniques generally lead to three kinds of injuries to the muscles, vertebral discs, and joints. Here is a brief synopsis of those types of injuries:
- Disc injury - Improper lifting can cause the soft cushions between your vertebrae, called discs, to tear, rupture, or shift out of position. Often, the fibrous rings surrounding the soft leathery discs can bulge and even rupture. Such an injury can cause the dislocated or ruptured disc to press against a nerve, causing pain and numbness to radiate down into your buttocks and/or leg.
- Joint injury - You may be surprised to know there are numerous joints in your spinal column connecting all of the various bony structures. A bad lift can cause excessive strain on these joints, irritating tissue within them, and in some cases, causing them to lock up.
- Muscle injury - If you change your position during a lift, you place a lot of stress on your lower back muscles. This can easily strain and injure, usually in the form of a small twist or tear, a muscle or group of muscles. Muscle strain is a very common form of back injury. A muscle pull or strain is often painful and can disable key body parts such as your back, hips, shoulders, neck, and knees.
Here are some simple lifting techniques to help you avoid these kinds of injuries:
- Make sure you have a place to put the object you have lifted. Do not try to figure this out while holding the object. Position your body close to and in front of the object. Your feet should be flat on the floor and about a shoulder-width apart.
- If you need to turn during the lift, use your feet to pivot. Keep your elbows bent while carrying an object.
- Your leg muscles, not those in your back, should be the ones providing the power during your motion to stand erect.
- Keep the load as close to your body as possible to maximize the use of your arms and shoulder muscles. The further an object is from your center of gravity, the more force that is required to hold that object up.
- Keep your chest forward and bend at your hips (not the lower back) or your knees, depending on how far down the items are that you want to lift. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips to avoid twisting motions.
- When lifting, push your chest out, pointing forward. Avoid twisting or turning during the lift.
- Lead with your hips, not your shoulders, keeping your shoulders in line with your hips. If you need to change direction, move your hips first; this way, your shoulders will move in unison with your hips. If you move your shoulders before your hips, this will make it easier for your body to twist during the lift, leading to possible strains and other injuries to your back and pelvis.
- Don't lift an object that is obviously too heavy. Test the weight of the object by pushing it with your foot. If it is very difficult or impossible to push with your foot, it is likely that the object is more than your muscles can handle.