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Proper Lifting for Back Health

Proper Lifting for Back Health

At one point or another, everyone has heard the saying “Lift with your legs and not your back.” The legs are designed to

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lift while the back is designed for stabilization and protection. This saying makes sense from a logical standpoint, but often does not get put into practice in everyday situations. Walk into any workplace and inevitably there will be someone bending over with straight legs to pick something up.

Wilke et al in their 1999 study measured the amount of pressure in the lumbar intervertebral discs during different activities. The lowest amount of pressure was .10 MPa while the patient was lying on their back. Contrast that with bending over to pick a 20 kg object up with a rounded back which weighs in at 2.30 MPa. That equals a 2000% increase in pressure. Picking that same object up with a neutral back and using the legs decreases the pressure to 1.70 MPa. That’s a 26% reduction in pressure by lifting correctly. It may not seem like much, but for those who are performing repetitive lifting actions at work it can help prevent serious low back problems like disc herniations.

Back health does not stop there however. Lifting is only a piece of the puzzle. What about when an object is carried from one place to another? That same study found that a 20 kg object carried 60 cm away from the body resulted in 1.80 MPa of pressure in the disc. That same object carried against the chest resulted in a measurement of 1.10 MPa which is a 39% reduction in pressure. Holding/working on an object away from the body can cause harm over long periods of time.

Oftentimes it is fatigue that leads to poor work postures. When these poor work ergonomics are practiced enough, they become habits. When these habits are formed and reinforced every day through repetitive activities, low back pain is not far away. What starts out as minor aches and pains can turn into a disc herniation in an instant if the method of injury (repetitive bad habits) are not changed.

The take home messages are simple. 1) When lifting an object, keep the back in a neutral position, not rounded. 2) Use the legs to lift, not the back. 3) When carrying an object, keep it close to the body. 4) When possible, work at waist level and close to the body. 5) Avoid positions where you are reaching and working too high, low, or too far away from the body.

These are simple lessons that have probably been told to you before. However, that does not lessen their importance. By focusing in on these adaptations and incorporating them into everyday activities, the incidence of low back pain will go down. If done enough they will become habit and will be done unconsciously. Keep your back out of pain and start working on these today. Your back will thank you.