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How to Prevent Back Pain

Protecting Your Back When Moving Objects

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. The worst thing you can do to your back is to bend way over with your low back and then twist.

You can do just as much damage transporting an object as you can trying to lift it. Here's a few safety tips to keep in mind.

Push, Don't Pull

Moving heavy objects on a cart is, of course, much less strenuous than carrying them, but even with a cart, you can still hurt your back if you're not careful. As a rule, it is safer to push an object than pull it. When you push, you use the strength of your legs and your back to move the object; you can really get your weight behind it. When you pull, the tendency is to stand flat-footed and to yank, relying solely on your back without using the leg muscles. Also, the back is often in a poor position when pulling, increasing the risk of a strain. Next time you have a choice, remember to stand tall, lean into the object, use your legs and arms, keep your head up, and push.


Minimize Bending and Twisting

The worst thing you can do to your back is to bend way over with your low back (at the waist rather than the hips) and then twist. However, many people use this foolish technique to lift and lower things every day; they clearly do not realize the long-term effect that this maneuver can have on their backs. Extreme bending and twisting are each hazardous by themselves, but not nearly as bad as combining the two motions. When you bend and twist at the same time, especially when lifting is involved, a large rotational, or shear, force is placed on the facet joints and disks, which dramatically increases the stress to these tissues.

Some simple suggestions will help you avoid these potentially dangerous maneuvers. Always try to face your work. This may sound obvious, but it can be very easy to sit or stand slightly to the side and turn just your neck or shoulders toward your work. If you have more than one piece of equipment around you, turn fully toward each one when you use it. Don't twist and reach for the screwdriver or the file folder; turn toward it and grasp it properly.

Also, when lifting things and carrying them a short distance, it is easy to forget proper technique and reach and twist instead. For example, a bucket brigade in which you are constantly twisting back and forth over a short distance with a heavy load is very dangerous. Always remember to take the time to take a few steps toward the spot you want to place the object. Use your feet to position yourself close to and facing the spot, rather than twisting and reaching toward it.

Use a Tool

Tools are designed to help you perform tasks with greater ease. However, unless you put the proper effort into their correct use, tools don't yield their optimum benefit. In fact, using tools improperly can actually make work more strenuous for you and your back. For example, when you shovel or rake, do you stand straight-legged with your back rounded over the shovel or rake? If so, you are actually hanging your upper-body weight on your ligaments, not using your muscles. Your ligaments are not designed to support your weight; that's your muscles' job. Don't be lazy -- use the muscles of your back and your legs to bend slightly at your low back and at your hips, knees, and ankles.

Overreaching is another common error that can lead to backaches and injury. When you overreach, you put your spine in an awkward, twisted position. Take a step when you need to cover a broader area with your rake. Using your feet more and your back less is always a good idea.

Here are some other hints to help you use your tools to your back's advantage: When shoveling, put smaller amounts of dirt in your shovel. Make up the difference by increasing the number of shovelfuls. Also, use a thigh as a fulcrum; rest the shovel handle against it like a teeter-totter, and let your arms and leg do most of the work. Your back will thank them for it. Alternate hands frequently so that you use different muscles and minimize the amount of constant twisting to one side. Finally, be aware of your back's position when you use other tools with long handles, such as mops and vacuum cleaners, and when you can, use a push broom rather than a traditional broom, which requires a lot more twisting.

Store Equipment in Back-Wise Locations

Sometimes we tend to conserve energy at our back's expense. We bend and twist just to avoid a few steps. One way you can reduce this tendency and give your back a break is to store things properly. Whether supplies and parts at work or products and tools at home, store things in places that are easily accessible.

Most of the time, people do not give any forethought to where they store heavy items. A heavy canister goes in the first open spot, even if retrieving it will require all manner of contortions. Or maybe that bag of charcoal just gets plopped on the floor because it's too heavy to carry any farther. Eventually, these items will have to be picked up again, and it would be a lot easier if they weren't on the floor or in the back of the closet.

Give some thought to where you store things. Place your heaviest items at waist height so you will not have to bend over when you return for them. Also, your most frequently used items should be placed at this level so that you don't have to reach all the time. That leaves lighter and infrequently used objects in the lower and higher locations on the shelves. If you have enough storage space, you could even leave the bottom-most shelves empty and never have to bend down to get something from them. With a little forethought, you can make it easy for yourself to use proper body mechanics in the future, possibly averting a strain or injury.

As with your most frequently used tools and supplies, set up your workbench, ironing board, and countertop at waist level when you can. If this is not possible, at least try to keep the surfaces you need to reach between knee and shoulder heights.

When thinking of ways to avoid back pain, your diet might not immediately strike you as a likely culprit. However, what you eat can greatly affect the energy body has to fight off injuries. Learn more on the next page.

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.