Proper Lifting Technique to Avoid Back Problems

Improper lifting technique can lead to back, leg, and arm pain. Poor technique can cause both acute injury and serious long-term effects. Learning the right way to lift will help you avoid these problems. Most people know this, but actually taking the time to perform lifting activities properly is often forgotten.

Two people carrying heavy boxes
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Steps to Ensure Proper Lifting Position and Technique

  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
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  1. Back Belts - Do They Prevent Injury? DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-127.

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