Injuries due to unsafe lifting are something that I see in my office every week. These debilitating injuries are most commonly felt as low back pain can and happen in a variety of ways.
Most of the research and statistics are related to lifting injuries that occur in the workplace but it also important to note that lifting injuries that result in low back pain are prevalent in all areas of our lives.
About 80 percent of adults will suffer a low back injury in their lifetime and many of these will be caused by inappropriate lifting techniques either at work, or in other day-to-day activities.
A survey of over 30,000 workers found that as the amount of working hours spent in repeated strenuous physical activities and in work with repeated bending, twisting, or reaching increased, so did the prevalence of back pain. Researchers also note that nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants had the highest rates of back pain.
In fact, healthcare workers often experience low back injuries associated with lifting at a rate exceeding that of workers in construction, mining, and manufacturing! These injuries are due in large part to lifting techniques that require repeatedly lifting, transferring and repositioning heavy patients often in awkward positions. The chance of injury is increased by the fact that patients are becoming heavier as our culture becomes more obese.
People often suffer these lifting injuries while gardening or working around the home as well.
The costs associated with these types of injuries are staggering. In the United States, direct and indirect costs associated with back injuries and low back pain in the healthcare industry are estimated to be $20 billion annually!
The costs to a person suffering with an injury like low back pain are more than just financial. There are emotional, psychological, and social ramifications as well when you are dealing with pain as well as potentially time off work and away from the activities that you enjoy.
That’s the bad news 🙂
The good news is – most lifting injuries are preventable.
By adding safe lifting techniques and observing correct posture and biomechanics, the risk of strains and sprains to the low back which result in debilitating low back pain can be greatly reduced.
Here are the tried and true rules for safe lifting with care, without hurting your back:
In a previous post we talked about preparing your body for activities by warming up the big muscles in order to prevent injury. This same advice applies to the activity of safe lifting.
Have a Plan
Knowing what you are lifting, where you are taking it and how you are getting there are good practices to get into to avoid injuries like low back pain. Clearing a path and a place to set down a heavy load beforehand will help you to avoid lifting in awkward positions which may contribute to injury. Also, if you are lifting something with another person, communicate and have a plan to coordinate your actions so the lift goes smoothly without injury.
Get Close to the Load
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, head up, feet and body pointing in the same direction. These adjustments will make you stronger and more stable as you lift. Then get as close to the load you will be lifting as you can. The stress and strain on your lower back increases significantly the further the object is away from your core.
Test the Weight
Squat or crouch down beside the load to lift and check the weight of what you’re lifting so you aren’t surprised by the load being heavier or lighter than you thought. Either of these can increase chance of injury and low back pain. If the object looks too heavy for you to lift, it probably is! Get help to lift the object.
Lift With Your Legs and Keep Your Back Straight
Your spine has a natural shock-absorbing curvature that should be maintained while increasing the workload. In addition, you should use the larger muscles of the legs to accomplish most of the work. This helps alleviate the stress on your back. So use your strong leg and arm muscles, to smoothly and slowly lift the load. Keeping your eyes focused upwards helps to keep your back straight.
Tighten Your Abdominal Muscles
Tightening your abdominal muscles will help to support your back in a good safe lifting position and will help prevent excessive force on the spine.
Keep Your Nose Between Your Toes
Keep the load close to your body while carrying or moving it. Pivot with your feet…don’t twist your body while carrying the load. By keeping your head lined up with your feet and avoiding a twist to your low back, or keeping your nose between your toes, you will be less likely to be injured.
Easy Does It
Bend your knees and slowly lower the load to its intended place by using the muscles of your legs. Remember to keep your back straight on the way down as well as when you lift the load up.
Take a Break
As we discussed in the post about snow shovelling, it’s important to give your body a break when doing something strenuous. If there is a lot to lift and move, make sure to rest periodically to avoid your body getting tired. Also, avoid heavy lifting immediately after prolonged bending or kneeling as you will be more susceptible to injury.
Above Your Waist
Do not lift heavy objects above your waist. Many hands make light work. Literally! So get some help with the heavy and awkward loads especially if the load is going to be lifted up high. Stand on something solid. Slowly lift the load, keeping it close to your body and pass the load to your helper.
Use Lift Aids
If you work in a job where there are aids to help lift, then use them. They are designed to help with safe lifting and greatly reduce the injuries that are so commonly seen in the workplace.
If you do happen to injure yourself while lifting, stop what you are doing, move slowly and use ice to control inflammation. If you are still feeling discomfort that isn’t getting better after 48 hours, it is a good idea to seek out the care of a health professional.
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons that people miss work, second only to the common cold. A big reason for this is improper lifting techniques which lead to low back injury. By following the tips as outlined above, your back will be happier and healthier and pain free!
Dr. Peggy Malone is a Chiropractor and an Athlete who helps other athletes to overcome injury and get back to their sport. She also inspires patients from all walks of life to take control of their health to be as happy and as healthy as they can be.
A former varsity Basketball and Rugby player, she has since entered the world of endurance athletics where she has completed 2 Ironman Triathlons, 3 Marathons, several Half Marathons and many other Triathlons, Road Races and Off-Road Adventure races of varying distances.
Her own athletic endeavors and injuries have given her valuable insight into working with athletes in her practice for both the care of injuries as well as for the improvement of athletic performance.