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Posture - Lifting
Lifting an object from the floor (or from any height lower than your waist) is potentially dangerous. The heavier the object, the greater the risk of injury to your back.
The incorrect way to lift is shown below:
The knees are relatively straight: as a result, the subject has to bend over with his back in order to reach the object in the first place. From this position, the only way to lift the box is to use the spine (as opposed to the legs).
Note also, that the head is angled backwards, with the neck bent. This compresses the neck and leaves the back even more susceptible to injury.
The correct way to lift is shown below:
The knees are fully bent, allowing the object to be grasped without bending the spine. The whole back, including the neck, is kept fully straight at all stages of the lift.
You will note that the subject is not looking at the object: he is looking straight ahead. This locks the vertebrae in the spine, prevents them from moving, and hence lowers the risk of strain.
If you need to look at the object in order to pick it up, do so during the preparation phase (noted below) but reposition your neck before you lift.
The whole movement can be broken down into the following series of distinct phases.
Approach the object and plant your feet firmly on the ground, at least shoulder-width apart. Bend down with your knees without bending over or twisting your spine.
Make sure that you are close to the object. Lifting an object at arms-length increases the load on your spine substantially. Grasp the object, keeping your back and neck straight.
Locate and isolate your lower abdominal muscles. Draw them up, and in, towards your spine; this will support your back, prior to lifting. Do not tense your neck muscles, or over-arch your lower back. These are common mistakes.
Before you lift, take a deep, slow breath. Fill your lungs as much as possible (within reason), breathing in through your upper and lower chest.
Hold the load close to your body, and use your knees to lift. The centre-of-gravity of the object should be kept as low as possible.
As you lift, keep your lower abdominals tensed (up and in), and breath out slowly.
Keep your neck and back straight at all times. Do not over-arch your lower back, or tense your neck.
Continue to breath, whilst keeping your lower abdominals tense. Some people hold the tension by not breathing: this is very bad for you.
If you need to change direction, now is the time to do so when you are upright and with the object close to your body. You should never move an object by bending over and/or twisting.
This is essentially the same as the lift, but in reverse. The potential for injury is just as high, so you must be careful to observe the following instructions:
Plant your feet firmly on the ground, at least shoulder-width apart. Bend down with your knees, without bending over or twisting your spine.
Continue to breath, whilst keeping your lower abdominals tense.
Make sure that you keep the object close to you, with the centre-of-gravity as low as possible. Keep your back and neck straight (do not look at the ground or the object as you bend down). Do not tense your neck muscles, or over-arch your lower back.
If you need to determine exactly where to put the object, do this either before you lift, or before you put the object down.
The following, additional advice, should be taken into account:
Do not lift objects that are too heavy or cumbersome; seek help from a friend or colleague. And do not be fooled into lifting ‘light’ objects incorrectly: injury is still possible. Good posture has to be reinforced by practice.
If you are lifting objects that can be divided, either lift them separately, or distribute the load evenly. For example, if you are carrying several bags of shopping, try to carry an equal load in each hand. Do not fill a single bag to the brim: fill two bags equally.
Do not lift and bend too much in a short period of time: this will fatigue your back and abdominal muscles and increase the risk of injury.
Make sure that you strengthen the deep, stabilising muscles in a controlled manner. This will reduce the risk of injury and keep your back strong.
For more details, please visit our section on Exercises.