I recently received a request for information on how to avoid injuring one’s back when lifting heavy items. So, I thought that might be a good topic to include in this blog since almost no one forever escapes hurting themselves while trying to get large grocery bags out of the car trunk, moving a garbage pail, or even hoisting a baby out of a crib.
Unfortunately, this is even more true as we age, as the muscles of the back get weaker and the supportive ligaments and discs of the spine become less resilient, leading to instability of the spinal joints. While the muscles can be strengthened through exercise, the other structures may not be as responsive to active training, not that it shouldn’t be attempted.
Perhaps another way to protect yourself is to have a good understanding of the proper mechanics involved in safely lifting something large and/or heavy. There are good and bad ways to lift things, and many times people have false information on what those are.
First and foremost is the advice often given that one should maintain the inward arch in the lower back while lifting, forcing a sort of Chuck Berry, duck-walk position that might look something like this:
Turns out this actually de-stabilizes the ligaments and discs of the back, making it more likely you would suffer a sprain or strain. It is actually safer to maintain a neutral, or even slightly flexed low back that would look like this:
In both images, though, you’ll notice that the lifter is squatting and has the object close in to the body, and this is actually the most important thing to keep in mind whenever you lift. The riskiest position for lifting is one where you are leaning forward with straight legs…
…or with outstretched arms, such as when lifting a box or grocery bags from the trunk of a car, or perhaps trying to lift a child from a crib or stroller…
In these cases – in all cases – you want to try to bring the object as close in to your body as possible and use your arms and legs to do the bulk of the work:
Another technique to use when reaching into the car trunk or even for lifting a light object from the floor is known as the Golfer's Lift. If you can, use one hand to steady yourself by holding onto something, then lift one leg behind you as you lean forward:
The most important thing to remember is that often, discretion is the better part of valor. Know your limitations! When I have to lift something really heavy, I often just use my index finger – to point to a young, strapping lad to help!