Lifting Techniques Refresher

November 6, 2022

By Jordan Hove PT, DPT

Taking out boxes of holiday decorations, hauling packages to and from the car, reaching items on the higher shelves at the back of your closet … the holiday season certainly requires its fair share of bending, lifting and reaching. This, coupled with the cooler weather, makes now the ideal time for a refresher on sound lifting methods.

Back pain and injury can put a real damper on life during any season, it’s one of the most common conditions we treat as medical professionals.  Fortunately, it’s also a condition that’s easy to reduce the risk of occurring, and one of the ways to keep the spine healthy is learning – and practicing – ways to lift with help from the hips and legs, not just the back.

Around 80 percent of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the top causes of disability in the U.S. And while preventing back pain is of key concern when one does a lot of bending and lifting, it’s not the only concern.

When we talk about sound lifting techniques, we’re looking at ways to minimize strain on just one area of the body and be efficient in our movement using the body as a team.  The goal is to put yourself in a position that allows the body’s musculoskeletal system to work as one cohesive unit, without putting too much strain on one area, such as the lower-back or shoulders.

So without further ado, I offer the following tips for proper lifting:

  • Warm Up: Don’t ever assume your body’s ready to lift heavy objects without first being thoroughly warmed up. Take the time to stretch you lower back as well as your legs and hips. Also, do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing to the muscles in your body.  There are many ways to warm up. Pick a movement that looks like what you want to do and gradually move into and out of these positions to warm up joints and muscles.
  • Get Close: Avoid reaching for a heavy or moderate-sized load. Get up nice and close to the box or object to minimize the force (in the arms, shoulders and back)  needed to lift, and always hold it close to your body.
  • Bend & Lift with Your Entire Body:  For small loads, it’s fine to bend and lift with the back. When lifting heavier loads that you may not commonly encounter, help the back by bending through your hips and knees along with the back so all areas are helping out versus just one area performing the entire task. Our biggest, strongest muscles in our body are in our hips, so learn how to use them!
  • Get a Grip: This seems to go without saying, but if you can’t get a strong, comfortable grip on the object in front of you – even if you know you can carry the weight – don’t try to be a hero. Find someone to help you or an alternative way of getting the object from A to B, such as a hand cart or dolly.
  • Reverse the Steps: When you get to where you’re going, set the item down just as you picked it up – but in reverse. Keep the load close to your body, bend with not just the back but the hips and knees as well, and go down in a controlled manner, especially if dealing with heavy loads.

During the process of lifting, limit twisting or reaching while carrying a load. And when you do twist and reach, use the hips to help perform this as they are designed to twist better than the lower back.  Don’t rush through the process of lifting, and if you’re tired, take a break and come back to it later. Finally, the best way to reduce risk of injuring the back, or any area of the body for that matter, is proper training and progressive loading to that area. Start with loads you can handle and slowly increase as you become stronger over time.

And if you do feel pain during or after lifting, or if you have an injury or condition you feel is holding you back from moving properly, visit a physical therapist for a full assessment prior to trying any sort of heavy or awkward lifting.