Proper Lifting Technique to Avoid Back Problems

Improper lifting technique can lead to acute back injury and serious long-term concerns like a herniated disc in the lumbar spine of the lower back. By using proper lifting technique, you can avoid compressing spinal discs or straining the lower back muscles.

This article will help show you how with a simple step-by-step guide.

Two people carrying heavy boxes
Colin Hawkins / Getty Images

Proper Lifting Technique: Step-by-Step

You can protect your back and avoid injury by following seven simple steps whenever lifting any heavy object:

  1. Ensure a wide base of support: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other.
  2. Squat down: Bend at the hips and knees only, not the back. If needed, put one knee on the ground to help stabilize you before lifting.
  3. Check your posture: Looking straight ahead, keep your posture upright with your chest out, shoulders back, and lower back slightly arched.
  4. Lift slowly: Lift with your knees and hips only, straightening the lower back as you do.
  5. Position the load: Once you are upright, hold the load close to your body at belly button level.
  6. Move cautiously: Always take small steps, watching where you are going. Keep your shoulders square with your hips when changing directions to avoid twisting the body and losing your balance.
  7. Squat down: Set the load down slowly, squatting with the knees and hips only.

Other Tips and Consideration

Lifting anything heavy takes forethought to avoid back strain and injury. Among the considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead before lifting. Knowing what you're doing and where you're going will prevent you from making awkward movements while holding something heavy. Clear a path. If you are lifting something with another person, make sure both of you agree on the plan.
  2. Lift close to your body. You will be a stronger and more stable lifter if the object is held close to your body rather than at the end of your reach. Make sure you have a firm hold on the object you are lifting and keep it balanced close to your body.
  3. Feet should be shoulder-width apart. Having a solid base of support is important while lifting. Placing your feet too close together will be unstable, while if they are too far apart it will hinder movement. Keep the feet about shoulder-width apart and take short steps.
  4. Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Practice the lifting motion before you lift the object, and think about your motion before you lift. Focus on keeping your spine straight. Raise and lower to the ground by bending your knees rather than bending at the waist or hips.
  5. Tighten your stomach muscles. Tightening your abdominal muscles will hold your back in a good lifting position and will help prevent excessive force on the spine.
  6. Lift with your legs. Your legs are many times stronger than your back muscles. Let your strength work in your favor. Again, lower yourself to the ground by bending your knees, not your back.
  7. Keep your eyes up. Looking slightly upwards will help you maintain a better position of the spine and help you keep your back straight.
  8. Don't twist or bend. Face in the direction you are walking. If you need to turn, stop, turn in small steps, and then continue walking.
  9. If you're straining, get help. If an object is too heavy, or awkward in shape, make sure you have someone around who can help you lift. Take a minute and find a helper.

Back Belts Do Not Decrease Risk of Injury

It has become common for many people who work in a job that requires lifting to wear back belts or a back support. However, research has not shown that they decrease the risk of a lifting injury. For this reason, they are not recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, American Industrial Hygiene Association, Bureau of Mines, Army Office of the Surgeon General, and other institutions.

Instead of relying on a back belt, it is important to use good lifting technique and not attempt to lift objects that are heavier than you would lift without a belt. If your workplace requires you to wear a back belt, do not trust that it is a substitute for proper lifting positions.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Back Belts - Do They Prevent Injury? DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-127.

Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.