“I was moving the couch down two flights of stairs with my friend and something popped,” or, “All I did was bend down to pick up my daughter, like I’ve done a hundred times, and something snapped and my back suddenly hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
I could give you a thousand stories like that. The sad thing about this is that most of these injuries could have been avoided if people would remember five simple principles about lifting. The father of one of my friends was forced into early retirement after a debilitating injury that occurred while he was lying on his back working on a car. He wasn’t even lifting anything; he was just in a bad position and moved the wrong way at the wrong time.
Before we discuss the five common mistakes that people make, let’s talk about what a back injury is. What happens when you are lifting something and then suddenly, POW! We have pain and suffering, sometimes on a scale that can prevent us from normal activities for a long time or even permanently.
Strains, Sprains, and Ligament Damage
The spine is column of individual vertebrae separated by cushion-like discs, and held together by ligaments and tendons. Muscles connect to the vertebrae and help hold it in position. The spinal cord, a bundle of nerves and related soft tissue, runs down the middle of the vertebral column with individual nerves exiting the column in between vertebrae. Injuries can happen to the muscles, ligaments and tendons, discs, nerves, and even the vertebrae themselves.
Given all of the moving parts that make up the spine, it is actually surprising that injuries don’t occur more often. Several volumes of books could be written about all of the different types of injuries that the human spine commonly suffers, but for now, let’s focus on the most common injuries that happen to almost everyone at some point in their lives: strains and sprains.
Strains and sprains occur when a muscle or ligament is stretched beyond its ability and it tears. The tear causes bleeding. The body reacts to this by immobilizing the muscles in that area to protect the ligament or muscle from further damage that more movement might cause. This muscle-spasm reaction is what we feel and interpret as the back injury.
When a muscle or ligament is torn and the muscles spasm to protect the injured part, what should be done to ease the pain and prevent further injury? The spasm is the body’s way of saying “STOP!” You must stop whatever it is you are doing. Those muscles need to heal and they can’t do that if they are still being used. The surrounding tissue often swells with fluid and blood as the body tries to heal the injured area.
The swelling can complicate the healing process if it becomes too acute. For this reason, applying a cold compress to the area can help reduce swelling and allow the body to heal faster. Conversely, too much cold can reduce circulation and slow the healing process.
That is why it is recommended to apply cold and heat alternatively, the cold compress to reduce swelling and the hot compress to encourage circulation. Anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen can used to help reduce inflammation and swelling if the injury is severe enough for that.
To recap: rest (stop the offending activity), cold and hot compresses, and anti-inflammatory medication (if appropriate) is the normal treatment for most strains and sprains and that includes injuries to the back.
It is always wise and extremely advisable to immediately get an examination by a healthcare professional to insure that the extent of your injuries is accurately determined and appropriate treatment for the speediest recovery is prescribed.
The expert Canberra chiropractors at Spine Centre are always happy to help you recover from any injuries you might suffer.
5 Most Common Lifting Mistakes
- Bending the back: The spine has a natural strength built into its form but only in it is used in the proper posture from which its strength is derived. When our muscles get tired or we allow ourselves to slouch or bend our back out of its naturally strong posture, we open ourselves up to injury.
Our spine can be bent beyond the capacity of our ligaments and muscles to stretch, causing damage that can lead to tissue damage and the resultant muscle spasms. When lifting things, remember to keep your back straight. Don’t bend over. If things fall out of your shirt pocket when you are lifting something, then you are bending over too far.
- Not using legs: The hard work of lifting should be handled by the legs. The legs have the largest muscles and are best equipped to handle heavy loads. To save strain on the spine, keep the backbone straight, lower your body by squatting down, and then use the legs to do the heavy lifting.
This will keep your spine in its naturally strongest position and help preserve discs, ligaments, and muscles that you need to last for a long time.
- Not getting close: One of the keys to proper lifting is to keep the strain on your back as light as possible. Lifting the load as close to your body as possible is one of the keys to keeping good posture while lifting.
As we hold something and lift, the farther away from our center of gravity, the more strain is going to be placed on our skeletal frame to support the load. The more strain on the skeletal system, the greater the possibility of over stretching muscles and ligaments.
- Twisting: Not keeping the spine in its naturally strong position is not just about slouching and bending, it is also about maintaining a non-compromised lateral position. The backbone does not have any natural strength associated with moving side to side.
You can feel this intuitively in your natural tendency to avoid lifting things from one side or the other. It doesn’t feel natural or comfortable. When you lift with your spine in a twisted position, you open your muscles and ligaments up to extreme pressures that they are not capable of withstanding in many cases, often resulting in tissue and disc injury.
- Carelessness: We should all be naturally aware of our posture at all times, but especially when we are lifting. Not being aware of our backs bending, not using our legs, the loads being far away from our centers of gravity, and our backs being twisted can be the cause of getting injured unnecessarily.
Getting in the habit of being conscious of our posture and techniques when lifting can be the key to protecting our health and even our livelihoods. Without a healthy spine, it is almost impossible to live an active, comfortable lifestyle. So we all must train ourselves to not be distracted, but to be aware of our bodies and our lifting techniques at all times.
Your Chiropractor in Canberra Can Help
So if you are living with chronic pain from a back injury, if you have had injuries in the past and you want to find out if they could still be a problem for you, if you want to insure that you are practicing safe lifting techniques and proper posture, book your appointment with the professionals at Canberra Spine Centre today to take advantage of our special, reduced-fee appointment for new patients. Live healthy, live well, with Canberra Spine Centre.