In the past, we have heard the old adage “you only have one body, treat it good”. So, what happens if we don’t abide by this advice? I believe that the body will begin to break down at a quicker rate, causing muscle pain, tendinitis, quicker cartilage wear, disc degeneration/herniated discs, etc…
Well, this is the reason for this article, to reduce the effects of bad lifting techniques, that will slow down the degenerative effects from poor body mechanics. Every time we lift, we are putting forces on our limbs and our spine. When we lift with poor body-mechanics, we place huge stresses on our spine and shoulders; but, if we can change a few simple habits, we can reduce this stress on our body.
There are two bad habits, when lifting from the floor, that I would like people to break, which can help to reduce back injuries. One is lifting while bending over or twisting and the other is lifting or carrying weight away from their bodies. I will break down each bad habit and replace it with a good habit.
Ok, here we go! First, the back muscles are shaped like small spindles grouped together as bundles that course up from the low back to the mid back, and are designed for movement. The spinal muscles are Not designed for lifting, they are designed for movement!
So, which muscle group is designed to do the lifting? The anterior thigh muscles, or quadriceps, are the muscles that work best for lifting. If you bend at the knees, to pick up the weight on the floor, when you stand up the quads are the muscles that allow for this movement. And we don’t typically hear of people straining a quad muscle when lifting! So, when lifting from the floor to waist height, think of yourself as an elevator, moving vertically up and down, not like a crane where you bend over at the waist. Bending over that way will increase the compressive load on your back and cause the back muscles to work hard. When you lift like an elevator, you reduce the chances of straining your back significantly.
The other bad habit of lifting is with the weight out and away from your body, which increases the compressive forces on your back significantly, and causes a huge strain on your shoulders. Here’s an example; let’s say you are lifting 40 lbs and you have that weight 20 inches in front of your body. Multiply the 40lbs by 20 and you have approximately 800lbs of compressive force on the lowest lumbar vertebrae and disc (L5-S1). Bring that weight in by 10 inches and you’ve decreased the compression by 400 lbs. Hold on a minute! What if you bring that weight right up against your body while lifting it? The weight is now back down to approximately the original 40lbs.
Some factors that can complicate this is being overweight; this forces you to hold the weight further away from the spine, plus factor in the compressive force on the spine from the increased body weight. When you’re ready to set the weight down or place it on a shelf, get your body as close as you can so that you avoid the reach, which reduces compressive forces on the spine and stress on the shoulders during a shoulder height or overhead height lifts.
One other bit of good information, on reducing these common injuries, is how to properly warm up the muscle groups that are doing the work. First, cold muscles will strain/tear a lot easier than a warm muscle. So if you’re about to lift some boxes that are on the floor, you know that you’re going to need to use your thigh muscles. So, before lifting the weight, start out by doing a few squats. This is the movement you’re going to do anyway, but without the weight! So, warm up your quads by doing a few squats before you load the muscles during lifting.
For the shoulders, reach forward and then up and down five to ten times to warm up the shoulders and then a shoulder stretch by reaching across the chest and holding your arm there with the opposite hand for about 10 to 20 seconds. Now, you’re ready to lift up to shoulder or overhead heights with less chance of straining your shoulders.
So keep in mind these few changes and make them your new habits. You will be protecting your own body and working safer.
I hope this helps reduce injuries in your future, so that you don’t have to experience pain and to reduce your medical costs. If you have any questions, or you can’t lift properly, feel free to contact me.
Dr. Gary Welch PT, CFCE, CFMT, COMT
Certified Functional and Orthopedic Manual Therapist
Certified Functional Capacity Evaluator and Kinesio Taping Practitioner