How to Prevent Back Pain

Protecting Your Back While Lifting

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The squat lift: position yourself over  the object, keep your back straight, bend your knees, and lift with your legs.

No matter how hard you try, avoiding all the situations that may be stressful to your back is impossible. Sometimes you have to lift heavy objects. Of course, as the weight of the object increases, so does the risk of injuring your back. However, the actual stress on your back is also related to the position of your body when you lift the object. Understanding how body positioning affects your activities is called body mechanics. You can decrease your chance of a back strain or injury by using good body mechanics.

Before you lift any object, you must first make sure that you are capable of lifting it. You can safely lift only a certain amount of weight. Even if you are extremely strong and you can lift 300 pounds by yourself, attempting to lift 310 pounds would be futile and hazardous -- your chance of injury increases dramatically with every pound over your limit. So the first thing to do when lifting an unfamiliar object is to test its weight, or load. Pushing it with your foot is usually enough to give you an idea.

Use the Squat Lift

After you have determined that you can lift the object, position yourself over the object, with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Try to get the object between your legs, when possible, so that you don't have to reach out for it. Squat down, keeping your head up, shoulders back, and spine erect. The bending should come only from your hips, knees, and ankles. Next, get a good hold on the object, and finally, lift the object with your head up. Use your legs to lift. Your leg muscles are the biggest, strongest muscles in your body, and even though it takes more energy to use them, they can handle a lift better than your back can. Keep the object close to your body; lifting or holding an object up close to your stomach rather than at arm's length greatly reduces the stress on your back and spine. Remember that what goes up must come down, so set the object down using the same technique you used to lift it.

Use the Golfer's Lift for Light Objects

Have you ever seen a professional golfer take the ball out of the hole after a putt? Chances are, he or she didn't squat down to pick up the ball. It would be a waste of energy and just plain ridiculous to use the squat lift for such a light object. Instead, golfers use the appropriately named golfer's lift. The golfer's lift is perfect for picking up small objects off the floor without expending too much energy or straining your back. With this method, all you need is some support (a chair, a desk, or a putter) to put your hand on to take the load off of your back as you bend over.

Here is how it works. First, face the object you are going to lift, and place all of your body weight on one leg. Place the opposite hand on a support, and bend straight over from the hip; your weighted knee can bend slightly, too. Keep your head up and your spine erect in a straight line. As you bend, let the leg with no weight on it come off of the ground in line with the upper body. This leg acts as a counterbalance to the weight of the upper body, making it easier to come back up without using the muscles of the lower back, which don't have the leverage.

Besides objects on the floor, the golfer's lift works for other common situations. For example, you might be lifting a bag of groceries out of your car's trunk. Place a hand on the edge of the car, bend from the hip, grab the bag with the other hand, and lift. Again, if you let the leg without the weight come off the ground a little, you will notice how easy it is to get back upright. To make it even easier, pull the bag closer to the back of the car before lifting. Your back will not even know it's working.

Become a Crane

Sometimes you are faced with lifting an object that is too heavy for the golfer's lift, and for some reason, you cannot use the squat lift. For example, you need to remove the dirty clothes from the hamper, but the hamper is too tall to squat over, and the one-handed golfer's lift just isn't going to do the trick; you are going to have to bend over to reach down into the hamper. Or let's say you have to get a large cooler out of the trunk of your car. Ideally, you would want to use the squat lift, but the cooler is at arm's length and down below the level of the bumper; again, you are going to have to bend. You can actually bend over with very little stress to your low back if you watch your technique.

The crane lift may feel a little awkward at first, but it is a good way to lift light to moderately heavy objects that you can't get any other way. Set your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees bent slightly, and position yourself as close to over the object as you can. Bend at the hips, keeping your head up and back straight. You should feel as if you are sticking your buttocks out as you bend; this helps your spine to maintain the proper alignment. Next, grab the object and lift, keeping the object as close as you can to your stomach. Keep your head up and shoulders back as you lift. Remember to set the object back down using the same technique, and always concentrate on not twisting as you lift or lower.

In some cases, you may be able to successfully lift a heavy object, but it's carrying the object that does the damage. For a list of tactics for carrying objects, read the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.