One of the most common injuries is low back pain resulting from heavy lifting activities. These injuries often happen to individuals when moving furniture or boxes, lifting weights during sport training, or even on the job as a medical professional transporting patients.
One study shows that healthcare workers have a higher prevalence of low back pain than heavy industry labor workers. Aside from healthcare professionals, approximately 70% of the United States population will have low back pain in their lifetime. Furthermore, in a broadened perspective, low back pain is the world’s leading cause of disability compared to all other conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is essential that safe lifting techniques are learned and practiced to reduce injuries at work, at play, and at home.
How Do Injuries Happen?
Injuries occur when the load (amount of force or weight ) is greater than the tissue’s capacity to withstand the stress. The body is mechanical in nature. All tissues in the body, whether bone, muscles, ligaments, or tendons, follow physics principles, illustrated by the stress-strain curve (see below). Engineers utilize this principle to ensure the integrity of materials when designing buildings and structures. Pictured below demonstrates how a tendon, for example, tolerates increased amounts of stress/force/load/weight. As the stress progressively increases, the body’s tissue can only stretch or strain so far before it breaks down with a resulting injury.
Another factor to consider is how tissue stress presents itself exactly. Aside from lifting heavy weights, repetitive movement or poor form will stress tissue. For many people, lifting 10lbs is quite easy. One can’t get injured from lifting 10lbs, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. If you lift 10lbs 1000 times, that adds up cumulative stress, leading to injury. Last but certainly not least, safe lifting techniques are paramount. If your posture is faulty when lifting, excessive forces on vulnerable tissues may increase injury severity.
How Can We Prevent Low Back Pain And Avoid Lifting Injuries?
Consider flipping the previously stated principle around. Individuals need to increase their tissue’s capacity greater than the load to withstand the heavyweight to avoid injury.
How Do We Improve The Capacity Of The Tissue Capacity?
First and foremost, practice good form while progressively increasing your strength and tolerance during functional lifting activities!
What Is The Best Way To Lift?
- Stop and think. Analyze the environment to ensure safety. Avoid tripping hazards and maintain good footing on a stable surface. Also, consider the amount of weight you are about to lift. Can you safely handle the amount of weight? Are you able to safely grip the weight or object with sufficient edges or handles?
- Position the feet. Keep the load close to your center of mass. In other words, keep the weight close to your body which will be safer to minimize stress on your back. Proper positioning of the feet will provide your body with a mechanical advantage for an easier ability to lift the weight.
- Adopt a good posture. The spine can tolerate heavier loads in neutral or relatively straight alignment compared to being hunched over. When lifting with poor posture, you are more likely to suffer a more severe injury such as a herniated disc.
- Get a firm grip. Find the handles or the edges. Suppose you can secure the weight properly. In that case, it will not shift position during your lift and prevent excessive stress on your back during the movement. Again, keep the load close to your spine throughout the movement for maximum safety.
- Engage your core and lift with your legs. Once upright, let your legs do the work as well. Walk with the load close to your body during the load transfer. When it comes time to set the weight down, use the same principles of lifting when lowering the object onto a shelf or floor. Thus repeat the above-listed steps for maximum safety.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Your Physical Therapist will complete a thorough and holistic examination to diagnose and identify the source of your injury. Your PT will help you modify activities or positions to protect and minimize irritation to injured tissue. They will also help you focus on areas of decreased strength, mobility and address movement patterns with provided strategies to improve function. They will help progress you through phases of healing, strengthening, and conditioning for return to a pain-free and injury-free life. Finally, your PT will empower you and equip you with skills and exercises to further increase your baseline function and prevent future injury.
Check out what injuries we commonly treat and what to expect during an appointment.
Josh “JP” Pate is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana. He studied Kinesiology at Louisiana State University, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree. JP graduated with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Diego, CA, at the top of his class with an award for orthopedics and manual therapy. Following PT school, JP moved to Portland, OR, where he practices in outpatient orthopedic and sports. JP’s patient care emphasizes functional movements, strength training, manual therapy, proactive symptom management, patient education, and empowerment.