Back pain is one of the biggest health complaints of American adults. Our bothersome backs frequently cause us to miss work, and they're also what get us in to see our doctors. We spend about $50 billion every year on products to try to ease the pain [source: American Chiropractic Association]. If it sounds like a lot, it is -- for perspective, the National Cancer Institute averages a budget of less than $5 billion annually [source: National Cancer Institute].
What's causing all this pain? According to the American Chiropractic Association, most back pain complaints stem from injuries and accidents rather than from health conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis or bone loss. We have five safety tips to make lifting safer -- and, sorry, one of them isn't our volunteering to help carry that big box for you.
The Importance of Having the Right Gear
Sometimes we all need a helping hand, literally. Or, when there's no one else around, other sorts of lifting aids will have to do.
When the size or weight of an object makes it difficult to move or lift -- whether it's an awkward shape or just too heavy -- consider using a dolly, hoist, trolley, forklift or wheelbarrow, or even sliding the object, to ease the load.
Additionally, if you do a lot of heavy lifting, fitting yourself with a few accessories can help keep you safe. Investing in a pair of gloves and steel-toed boots may save your hands and feet from accidental injury. But if you're considering a back belt, it may not make much of a difference. Back belts -- those elastic bands you wear around your lower back to help reduce your chances of back injury -- aren't endorsed by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) as tools for helping reduce the incidence of back injuries. They've never been proven to help and may potentially increase your risk of injury.
Be Aware of Your Posture
You only get one back, and anyone with back pain will tell you its health isn't something to take for granted. One important goal when lifting is to do so without adding stress to your spine. The most vulnerable place for injury is your lower back, and your neck, shoulders, elbows, hands and wrists are also at risk.
Be aware of your body. When lifting, your knees should be bent and your back should remain straight. Keep your back straight from the time you lift to the time you're done lowering the object. And while you're carrying the load, keep the object you're lifting close to you, and don't twist or reach while you're lifting.
Watch Out: Heavy, Awkward and Frequent Lifting
Heavy, awkward and frequent lifting are all to blame for back injuries from time to time. How heavy is too heavy? Everyone will have his own limit. Know yours, reduce the weight of the load (through repackaging or the use a lifting aid) or prepare to spend a lot of time convalescing on your back.
Awkward objects -- those that are bulky, above your head or below your knees -- can cause us to break from good posture in an effort to work with the object's bulk, odd shape or distance from us. When lifting, be sure to keep your core muscles engaged, try not to lean forward while moving the object and never extend your arms while reaching or carrying (which can increase your risk of not only back injury, but also injury to your shoulders, neck, wrists and hands).
And, finally, frequent lifting adds to your risk of injury because it can cause repetitive stress and muscle fatigue.
The Power of Team Lifting
Can't carry something yourself? Grab a buddy -- or a few -- and get lifting. Two sets of hands or more can make the load lighter and the job go by faster, but there are a few safety issues to consider when participating in team lifting.
First, decide who's in charge of your team. You'll need a team leader -- a director -- to ensure you're all on the same page with the task at hand. As team leader, you'll want to make sure all helping hands know what objects need to be moved and what their destination is. Remind your team to lift and lower at the same time to avoid leaving any single person bearing more than his share of the weight. And don't forget to remind everyone to follow the proper lifting techniques -- more on that, next.
Use Proper Lifting Technique
In addition to considering the size, weight and position of the object you want to lift, you need to do a few other things to remain injury-free. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the following technique:
- Give your body a firm foundation. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (about one foot or 30 centimeters) to help stabilize yourself.
- Don't twist. Instead of bending your back to reach the object, bend at your knees, keep your chest pointed forward, tighten your abdominal muscles (your core) and lift with the strength of your legs.
And when you're setting the object down? Same thing.
HowStuffWorks looks at a study linking time spent with childhood friends with improved outcomes in men's health.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. "Preventing Back Pain at Work and at Home." July 2007. (Feb. 7, 2011) http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175
- American Chiropractic Association. "Back Pain Facts & Statistics." (Feb. 7, 2011) http://www.acatoday.org/level2_css.cfm?T1ID=13&T2ID=68
- Harvard University - Environmental Health & Safety. "Lifting Safety." Oct. 6, 2008. (Feb. 7, 2011)http://www.uos.harvard.edu/ehs/safety/toolbox_talk_lifting.pdf
- Mayo Clinic. "Slide show: Proper lifting techniques." Feb. 5, 2011. (Feb. 7, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain/LB00004_D&slide=1
- National Cancer Institute. "Cancer Research Funding." July 13, 2010. (Feb. 7, 2011)http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/NCI/research-funding
- Premier. "Back injury prevention." (Feb. 7, 2011) http://www.premierinc.com/safety/topics/back_injury/
- U.S. Army - White Sands Missile Range. "Safe Lifting Techniques." Aug. 25, 2010. (Feb. 7, 2011)http://www.wsmr.army.mil/gar/ISO/Safety/Pages/SafeLiftingTechniques.aspx
- U.S. Department of Energy - Brookhaven National Laboratory. "Safe Lifting and Carrying Techniques." June 9, 2009. (Feb. 7, 2011) http://www.bnl.gov/esh/shsd/pdf/safe%20lifting%20and%20carrying%20techniques.pdf
- U.S. Department of Labor - Occupational Safety & Health Administration. "OSHA Technical Manual: Section VII, Chapter 1." (Feb. 7, 2011) http://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/otm_vii/otm_vii_1.html
- U.S. Department of Labor - Occupational Safety & Health Administration. "Standard Interpretations - Standard Number 1903.11(c)." July 31, 2007. (Feb. 7, 2011) http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=22559