Whether you are taking boxes down from the attic to decorate for the holidays, lugging boxes moving to a new home, or lifting regularly at your workplace, it is essential to watch your back. Improper lifting techniques can cause both short and long term back injuries. Learning to lift properly will help you accomplish your tasks while reducing your chances of hurting or disabling yourself.
Back injuries can be caused by a single defined instance or as the result of improper lifting techniques over time. Injuries can arise from damage to muscles, ligaments, vertebrae or vertebral discs. Back injuries account for a significant amount of human suffering and lost productivity. For individuals in their working years, back problems are one of the leading causes of disability. The economic impact of back injuries is expected to rise over the next several decades due to the aging population and growing healthcare costs.
Since back injuries result from exceeding the capability of the muscles, tendons, and discs, it is important to avoid lifting loads that are just too heavy for the back to support. Injuries can also occur due to a cumulative effect of contributing factors that include
- Reaching while lifting
- Poor posture or physical condition
- Twisting or bending while lifting
- Ergonomic deficiencies for job workstations
- Sitting or standing for too long
- Improper body mechanics for lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling objects
Be safe by planning ahead before you are going to lift anything. Being familiar with the area you are lifting in and knowing exactly where you are moving an item to can reduce the time your body is under the stress of lifting and prevent tripping due to obscured sightlines you may have while carrying a large object. If you will be lifting an item with another person, make sure you both agree on the technique and path beforehand.
Lifting safely starts with getting a firm hold on the object, then bending your knees while keeping your back straight, and finally lifting with your legs. It is important to have a solid, stable base to lift from, so keep your feet shoulder width apart. While lifting, tighten your stomach muscles to support your back. If at any point the object is too heavy or your grip loosens, ask for assistance if available, and slowly guide the item down to a resting place.
If you do injure your back, visit your doctor or nearest Urgent Care Center for an evaluation. Certain medications and rehabilitation exercises can help reduce the number of days you are in pain, returning you to your normal activities sooner.
Cynthia Vanson, MD
Assistant Medical Director, Urgent Care of Connecticut.