You’ve heard it a hundred times: lift with your legs, not with your back. It’s not a cliché, it’s good medical advice for preventing pain and injury to your spine and back.
Back injuries resulting from lifting heavy or bulky objects are extremely common, but they’re also easily preventable. Usually, the injury occurs in the lower back region, which is known as lumbar strain: the tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the area are damaged or pulled out of alignment while lifting, which leads to aches and spasms. It can also cause the cushioning discs between vertebrae to bulge or slip out of place. For some people, there may be shooting pains, an ongoing ache, or the area may feel sore to the touch.
People whose jobs or hobbies require heavy or frequent lifting, such as construction, manual labor, or yard work are at a high risk for this type of injury. Even though they may have been trained in how to lift correctly, being in a rush, or even a simple twist in the wrong direction can lead to a sore back. Manual laborers are not the only ones who can strain their back while lifting: weight lifters also have a good chance of injuring themselves this way through improper form.
When lifting, be sure to bend only at the knees and hips; keep your waist straight – this includes avoiding both bending and twisting motions – and engage your core muscles by pulling them into your abdomen instead of relying solely on the muscles in your back. A fairly wide stance, with one foot slightly in front of the other will help improve your balance. It’s also important to keep the object close to your body while lifting it, instead of holding it outward. Finally, be realistic about the load you can handle: ask for help lifting unwieldy objects instead of trying to do it alone, and when lifting weights, don’t increase the amount too quickly while training. Again, ask for help and get a spotter.
Taking care while lifting can prevent back pain and injury, but accidents do happen. If you strain your back while lifting, you’ll need to take a break from physical activity until it heals; ice, rest, and over the counter pain medication like ibuprofen can help manage the pain and swelling as you heal. For severe pain that doesn’t fade, pain that radiates into other parts of the body like the legs, or numbness and tingling sensations, consult your doctor.
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