Lift safely at work: Where it can save your back

“I was lifting something heavy yesterday at work and all of a sudden, my lower back started killing me. My lower back is now throbbing in pain, e.g. if I sit in a chair it kills. Is there anything I can do to relieve the pain or cure it? Please help!”

Does the above situation ever happen to you? If it does, then the next thing we will discuss is really important to you as we will discover the secrets of why so many people having back pain after lifting at their workplace and how to prevent it.

Lifting and back pain: Why it is important to be careful with it?
Almost everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain varies from one person to the next. It can range from mild to severe, and can be short-lived or long-lasting.

First of all, we need to remind ourselves that – back injury is best avoided at all cost, as the first time you have injured your back, it becomes more exposed to future injury.

It is true that it is impossible to prevent all back pain as we cannot avoid the normal wear and tear on our spines that goes along with aging. However there are things we can do to lessen the impact of low back problems – especially at workplace.

Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling heavy loads can help to prevent injury and avoid back pain.

Lifting mistakes: A quick review
Before we focusing on the right way to lift, let us review on the following common lifting mistakes that common lifting mistakes at work place that can lead to a back pain:

  • Allowing the back to curve forward while you grasp an object, then lifting by straightening the back

  • Bending at the hips but keeping the legs straight while grasping and lifting

  • Twisting the back while lifting or holding, usually by turning the shoulders, but not the hips

  • Holding an object away from the body

  • Lifting a heavy object (or child) above shoulder level

  • Attempting to lift an object that’s too heavy or awkward for one person to safely lift

  • Underestimating the need to be careful when lifting a light object

Ok. How these lifting mistakes can lead to back pain?

  • Muscle or ligament sprain/ strain (tiny tears) in the muscle or ligament can results from a combination of poor body mechanics and too much of a burden on your back muscles

  • Spinal disc injury is often caused by forward bending of the spine and poor lifting technique. A spinal disc that is squeezed by the vertebrae above and below it can bulge – break open (herniated disc), causing back and leg pain and numbness (sciatica) and sometimes bowel and bladder problems

  • Joint at your back bone (Vertebrae) can become damaged during awkward lifting

So how exactly we should lift up thing properly?

  1. Think before you lift

Plan the lift. Make sure you know where the load is going to be placed, possible help needed, and obstructions, such as discarded wrapping materials on the pathway. Consider possibility using handling aids. For long lifts, from floor to shoulder height, consider resting the load mid-way on a table or bench.

  1. Keep the load close to the waist as long as possible

The distance of the load from the spine at waist height is an important factor in the overall load on the spine and back muscles. Keep the heaviest side of the load next to the body. If closely approaching the load isn’t possible, try to slide it towards the body before trying to lift it.

  1. Adopt a stable position

Your feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance (alongside the load if it’s on the ground). Be prepared to move your feet during the lift in order to maintain a stable posture. Wearing over-tight clothing or unsuitable footwear, such as heels or flip flops, may make this difficult.

  1. Ensure a good hold on the load

Where possible, hug the load close to the body. This may be a better option than gripping it tightly with the hands only.

  1. Now you are ready to GO! Lift it up, but do not bend your back when lifting,

A slight bending of the back, hips and knees at the start of the lift is preferable to either fully flexing the back (stooping) or fully flexing the hips and knees – in other words, fully squatting.

  1. Do not flex the back any further while lifting

This can happen if the legs begin to straighten before starting to raise the load.

  1. Most importantly, do not twist your body when you lift

Avoid twisting the back or leaning sideways especially while the back is bent. Keep your shoulders level and facing the same direction as the hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than twisting and lifting at the same time.

  1. Keep your head up
    Keep your head up when handling the load. Look ahead, not down at the load once it has been held securely.

  1. Move smoothly
    Do not jerk or snatch the load as this can make it harder to keep control and can increase the risk of injury.

  1. Know your limits

Do not lift or handle more than you can easily manage. There’s a difference between what people can lift and what they can safely lift. If you’re in doubt, seek advice or get help.

  1. Lower down, then adjust

Put the load down and then adjust. If you need to position the load precisely, put it down first, and then slide it into the desired position.

You can try your best to apply this technique in sequence – with lighter weight – for a few times – until your body get familiar with the technique without reading this article first. Happy lifting!

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Afiq Muhammad

Afiq Muhammad

Physiotherapist at Physio Savvy
Afiq Graduated with BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy from MARA University of Technology. His past work experience involves varied cases in various fields, making his patient care hollistic and patient based. He is most interested and experienced in the fields of musculoskeletal conditions and sporting injuries.
Afiq Muhammad

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