Back Pain Prevention: Proper Lifting Techniques

Photo: New York Public Library

Never lift an object if you are in a forward bent position. The picture here shows a proper squat in order to reach down to the floor. Your spine is a perfectly stable system of bones (vertebrae) with discs in between each one. This system is designed to support your body weight and has the capacity to support much more weight (for example, carrying furniture) if the spine is maintained in its neutral position. (Note, it is not designed to support excessive body weight). The neutral position of the spine is when each vertebra is stacked on the one above it, which happens when you are demonstrating proper posture. You lose the stability and strength of the spine when you are twisted or bent, which removes the vertebrae from their properly stacked resting position. When this occurs, the muscles of your back have to be used in a way they were not made for. Why not use the stability of your spine when you lift instead of straining weak back muscles? 

Back muscles can be strengthened, but strong back muscles alone cannot prevent back injuries when your spine is in a compromised position, such as bent forward. Instead, it is best to lift when your back is straight and you use your legs to do the work. This involves squatting down but maintaining a straight back position. Our leg muscles are very strong and large and are made to do the work of lifting heavy objects, if we use our legs instead of our backs. If you are familiar with weight lifting, squatting is the exercise in which one can lift the most weight, compared to dead lifts, bench press, etc. This is because the thighs and buttocks have huge, powerful muscles, which are much less prone to injury. I rarely see patients for quadriceps (anterior thigh muscle) or gluteus maximus (buttocks muscle) strains whereas low back strains are very common in outpatient PT clinics.

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I am a Physical Therapist and Ergonomics Consultant, based out of Columbia, SC. My passion is to write about and speak about pain/injury prevention. I started Pain Talks as a consulting business in 2018.

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