North Shore Pediatrics
Educational Library

Lifting Safely

Think about all the things you lift in a day: groceries, children, suitcases, vacuum cleaner, laundry basket, garbage, tools, furniture... Perhaps your job involves lifting: roof shingles, furniture, mail, groceries, hospital patients... Do you reach out and hoist the load? In a quick second, you can hurt your back and cause yourself much misery. You need to stop and think about how you are lifting.

Lifting puts tremendous pressure on your vertebrae, and the way that you lift an object makes a huge difference. According to Dr. I. A. Kapandji, in his book The Physiology of the Joints, lifting a twenty-pound object with your knees flexed and trunk vertical exerts about 300 pounds of force on the vertebrae. Lifting the same weight while keeping the knees straight and bending over from the waist exerts about 560 pounds on the spine (almost twice as much).

To protect your back, learn and practice good lifting techniques. If you do a lot of lifting in your work or daily life, you should also do exercise to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Strong abs can reduce compression of the disks in your spine by as much as 50 percent.

Lifting Techniques

To keep your back working smoothly, you need to lift objects correctly. Safe lifting techniques can save your back from accidental strain and overload.

  • Before you lift something, always judge its weight by pushing it with your foot. If it seems too heavy, divide the load or get someone to help you. Never carry anything you can't manage with ease.
  • Never try to pick something up when your torso is twisted. Lifting while the spine is twisted causes the majority of lifting injuries. Instead, turn to face the object. Be sure your knees and torso are facing the same direction.
  • If you need to turn while holding the object, for example to place it onto a table, turn your feet instead of your back. Keeping your torso straight, pivot on the balls of your feet. This way your whole body turns without your spine twisting.
  • Get as close to the object as possible. The closer you are, the less straining there will be on the spine.
  • Never bend from your waist. Bend your knees and hips instead. This lets the large muscles in your legs do most of the work. Bending from your waist to lift an object requires your back muscles to exert nearly twice the force.
  • Tighten your abdominals as hard as you can to support your lower back before lifting or reaching for an object. When you pull your abdominals in, you increase intra-abdominal pressure, which decreases stress in your disks and joints by 50 percent. To tighten the abdominals, take a deep breath. When you exhale, pull your belly button toward your spine. Suck in as if you were trying to zip up a really tight pair of pants. Hold the abdominals in as you lift the object. Hold them in when putting the object down, too. Try not to hold your breath.
  • Hold the object you've lifted close to your body as you gradually straighten your legs to a standing position. When carrying an object, keep your arms close to your rib cage. The further away from your body you hold a weight, the more disks of the spine are compressed and the more the muscles have to work.
  • When reaching for objects overhead, the same rules apply. Get as close to the object as possible. Face the object so your torso can be straight and not twisted and pull your abdominal muscles tight before you reach. Never lift a heavy object higher than your waist.

Lifting Tips
Many a person has toppled over with back pain after shoveling snow, raking the leaves, moving into a new house, even hoisting a heavy suitcase. These tips will help you lift things safely.

  • Buy luggage with wheels. Don't try to carry heavy suitcases through the airport. It is almost impossible to balance the weight of a heavy suitcase evenly, and one side of your body ends up carrying the entire load.
  • Try not to carry overloaded shopping bags. They place too much stress on your back, elbows, knees, and feet. Instead of carrying one very heavy shopping bag, distribute the groceries between two shopping bags, preferably with handles. Carry one in each hand.
  • Moving heavy furniture can ruin your back. If possible, hire a professional mover.
  • When vacuuming, never bend or twist your spine. When moving the wand forward or from side to side, use your leg muscles instead of your back - bend your knees slightly and shift your weight from one foot to another. Keep your arm close to your body rather than reaching to cover as much ground as possible.
  • When raking leaves, bend your knees and place one foot forward; change the front foot often. Move forward or backward, shifting your weight from foot to foot, and dragging the leaves with the rake as you move. Don't reach too far in front of you with the rake.
  • Shoveling snow can be extremely tough on the back. Take small steps; the job will take longer, but your back will be safer. Bend your knees when scooping. Before lifting the shovel filled with snow, tighten your abs to support your back. The further you try to throw the snow, the more you'll strain your back. Trade sides every few minutes. If you can afford it, a small snow thrower will make the job easier and save lots of wear and tear on your muscles and joints. Or hire a plow to take care of the driveway.

Helpful Hint
There will be times it's just not worth the risk of hurting your back. You have choices to enlist help - volunteer or paid - and making the correct choice for you pays off in the long run.

» Return to table of contents «

North Shore Pediatrics, PC  -  480 Maple Street, Suite 3A, Danvers, MA 01923
Telephone 978.406.4234  -  Fax 978.921.2968

copyright © 2014 North Shore Pediatrics, PC All Rights Reserved