An Orthopedic Specialist’s Guide to Protecting Your Back When Lifting or Carrying Heavy Objects

lifting boxes

Lifting something heavy can cause serious back pain if you don’t do it properly. Here are some tips on how to protect your back.

Back injuries account for about 20 percent of all workplace injuries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. And a good portion of those injuries arise from workers lifting or attempting to lift heavy objects. Yet even if you don’t work at a job that requires lifting bulky items, you may injure your back when moving a box, a piece of furniture, large equipment, or even your child.

That’s why it’s vital to know how to lift or carry large, weighty objects to avoid lower back pain. Although you may think that a sore back after lifting will quickly go away, it could actually signal a serious injury like a herniated or dislodged disc. If you have a herniated disc, you’ll likely not only experience back pain, but radiating pain down your buttocks and legs, as well. 

Fortunately, following a few simple tips can protect your back when lifting.

How to Lift Properly

Before you lift, gauge how heavy the object is. Grabbing and lifting the object without knowing its weight can lead to a sudden back injury. If the item is too heavy for one person to lift, ask a friend to help you. 

Once you’re ready, it’s time to get into the proper posture and use the right motion. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Stand with Your Feet Shoulder Width Apart. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, or slightly wider than your shoulders, helps you maintain your balance. Point your toes outward, too. 
  1. Keep Your Spine Neutral. Your spine has a natural slight curve toward your belly at the lower back, so it should be kept in that position when lifting. Don’t overly arch your lower back or hunch your shoulders forward. And look straight ahead so you won’t be tempted to bend your body over the object.
  1. Bend From the Knees. This is the most important step. Lift as if you’re doing a squat and slowly push up through your heels. That way, your legs will absorb most of the weight, rather than your lower back. Your leg muscles are better equipped to bear the load, so let them do the heaving lifting.
  1. Don’t Hold Your Breath. When you hold your breath, you deprive your brain of oxygen. This simple act could cause your blood pressure to rise and make you feel woozy. Instead, exhale when lifting, and inhale when you lower the item. 
  1. Keep the Object Close. By keeping the object close to your body, you’ll maintain your stability and keep a firm grasp on the item. If you hold it with your arms outstretched, you risk putting too much strain on your lower back. As you lift, tighten your core abdominal muscles to support your back. 

Some workplaces recommend employees wear lumbar support belts when lifting. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes that no scientific evidence suggests the belts can prevent back injuries. NIOSH, therefore, recommends workers follow proper lifting techniques, like the ones listed here.

How to Prevent Back Injuries

You can protect yourself from a back injury by strengthening your core muscles with exercises like abdominal crunches. Stretching exercises like yoga are also beneficial, as flexible, strong muscles lower the chance of a back injury.

If your back pain persists, consult with your doctor and a physical therapist. You may have to give up strenuous workouts such as weightlifting for a while, but you can keep your muscles strong with low-impact aerobic exercises (walking, biking, swimming, etc.).

We’re the Back Specialists

New York Bone & Joint Specialists has helped thousands of patients overcome lower back pain with non-surgical and surgical methods. Persistent back pain, whether from a sports, workplace, or home injury, must be treated promptly. Our doctors and physical therapists are here to help. Contact us today for a consultation.

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