Every day at Canberra Spine Centre we see people who have injured their lower backs through poor lifting techniques. You don’t need to be in a job where you lift all the time – it could be just the little things you do every day that cause injury.
In this article, we’ll give you five tips to make sure you are using your body every day in a way that prevents lower back injury. Remember, it’s not just about the heavy lifts. Injury can result from the small things you do everyday that accumulate over time.
Often it is not the weight you are lifting, but your own body weight being mis-managed through poor movement that causes injury. Picking up small things from the floor and getting things out of the bottom drawer in the kitchen are just a couple of examples.
So here goes – five things to help you prevent injuries to your lower back:
#1 Move your backside first
We are often told to ‘bend your knees and keep your back straight’ when lifting. The problem with this advice is twofold. Firstly, you can bend your knees and still stuff up the movement. Second, it’s not always possible to keep your back upright.
So here’s a better way to think about moving your body when lifting: Move your backside first. Next time you need to lift something, make the first movement your buttocks moving backward. What this does is maintain the curve in your lower back as the knees and hips bend to allow the movement.
Maintaining the curve in your lower back helps it remain strong through the movement. Your spine can dissipate forces and spread the load much better when its curves are maintained. When you lose the curve in your lower back while lifting, you are much more susceptible to injury.
#2 Use your legs to do the lifting
Following on from above, don’t use your spine to do the lifting. Your spine can comfortably go through forward and back bending to get you into different positions, but when you do this under load, you risk injury.
Your legs, on the other hand, are made to carry load. The huge muscles and joints of your hips, thighs, buttocks and knees are perfectly suited to doing the heavy lifting, so take advantage of this.
Squatting up and down to raise and lower whatever it is that you’re carrying will allow the curve of the spine to remain and place the loads where your body is strong enough to take it. Remember, do this not just for heavy lifting by for those small day to day things like picking up a T-shirt off the floor.
#3 Keep it close to your body
Whether you are carrying a box of groceries, getting something out of the boot or moving furniture to do the vacuuming, the same forces apply.
When you hold an object away from your body, leverage forces effectively multiply the forces on your lower back. Simply bending forward 30 degrees can multiply the pressure within your lumbar discs several times. So keep whatever it is you are lifting or carrying close to your hips.
It’s not always easy to do. Getting things out of the boot of your car or lifting your baby out of its cot require you to bend forward.
One way you can get around this is to turn more side-on to the car or cot so that you can bend your knees, and then move the object close to your hips to lift it out.
When lifting furniture or heavy boxes, often spreading the legs and knees apart allows your hips to be closer to the load. Lifting this way is a great way to prevent injury.
#4 Avoid twisting and bending at the same time
Bending and twisting together while lifting is a sure-fire way to injure your spine. The outer layer of fibres in your lower back discs form a diagonal criss-cross pattern a bit like the wire reinforcing your car tyres. The diagonal alignment of these disc fibres is designed to withstand and spread heavy loads.
When you twist your back under load, however, half of these fibres become slack, while the other half must do the job of holding up under the load. This significantly weakens the discs’ load-bearing ability.
This is a classic way for people to injury their lower backs. Injury in this way can occur with one heavy lift, but more often occurs as an accumulation of poor lifting technique over months and years.
When you need to move an object from one side to another, move your legs, not your spine. This way, you are separating the move into two components, helping your spine to be strong while carrying that load.
#5 Don’t overload – break it down
At Canberra Spine Centre, sometimes we see people who injury their lower back from just taking on too much at once. To reduce the loads and prevent injury , there are two ways you can break down your lift.
First, you can carry a smaller portion at a time. This means carrying fewer boxes or bags at the one time, or having an extra person to help you carry that piece of furniture or box.
Second, you can break down the lift. For example, when lifting a young child off the floor, start by kneeling and putting them on your knee, then put them on your hip, and then stand. Moving a box to a halfway point such as a coffee table does the same thing – breaking the lift down into manageable steps to reduce the load on your spine and prevent injury.
Putting those steps into place should help you prevent injury to your lower back. If you have any concerns about your lower back please call Canberra Spine Centre on (02) 6257 9400 or check out our other fantastic resources available at: https://spinecentre.com.au/chiropractor-canberra-blog/