11 Steps to prevent low back pain from getting you down

How can I protect my back while lifting? 

Many of these suggestions for protecting and taking care of a painful back are universally effective for both healthy and troubled lower back pain problems, and several fall under the category of common sense.  The reader’s lower back pain problems would benefit greatly if this spinal care information was applied to all areas of work and leisure time activities.  Today’s computerized and sedentary lifestyle is spent increasingly in front of a screen or monitor of some type, or a steering wheel.  This has resulted in greater structural weakness for many and widespread back pain as a result.

It is no wonder that back pain is the most common pain complaint in the U.S with 65 million Americans reporting a back pain episode in the prior three years, and nearly 10% of the adult population limiting their daily activity in some way because of back pain.

Use these strategies and reminders to reduce or prevent lower back pain episodes, or suffer the consequences.

Always pay attention to low back pain

Try to learn from low back pain.  Allow the low back pain tell you what you are doing wrong, what you could be doing better, and what you should not be doing at all.  Stop at the first sign of lower back pain and think about what you are doing at that moment, as well as what you had been doing a few minutes or a few hours earlier to understand how your actions are affecting your back problem.  To not do this is to not learn, and to likely repeat bad back episodes and allow the back to worsen over time.

Avoid twisting to protect the low back

In the clinic I found that most of the time low back injuries almost always involved some element of twisting the lumbar spine while keeping the feet pointed straight.  The lumbar spine is not built for twisting, or rotation; it is built to bend forward and backward, or flexion and extension of the back.

Usually any element of low back twisting in a job that is being done can be eliminated by a very simple alternative:  move your feet.

Take for example all the people who injure their backs shoveling heavy snow.  Much of the stress and strain of snow shoveling does not come from lifting the weight of the snow at the end of the shovel, but from the twisting that is done when the snow is being thrown to the side off the shovel.   Incorrect technique:  Keep the feet planted while you twist the back to gain momentum to fling the snow away from where you are standing.  Correct technique:  Pick up one foot and bring it diagonally off to the side to gain momentum to throw the snow off the shovel.   By moving the foot laterally off to the side, the snow can be thrown forward in a new direction since the entire body has moved.  All low back twisting is avoided if one foot is moved.

How to lift and move object to protect the back at work or home

A lot of work done around the home involves bending and lifting.  But, because the environment of a home is so much more informal and spontaneous than the workplace and the workload is often smaller than at work, less caution and care is applied to these jobs at home than they deserve.  Even though the bag of groceries resting on the kitchen floor might be less heavy than the box of business documents at work, these loads still can cause a  pulled muscle in the low back if they are lifted incorrectly.

Effective help for sacroiliac joint and low back pain

Three primary “lifting postures” that will take care of the majority of situations at home or elsewhere:

  • “Golfer’s lift” – Used for picking up small objects like children’s toys or a piece of mail on the floor.  No need to use a technique for heavy lifting, so use leverage and avoid bending the low back.  Instead, shift all your weight on one foot, while using the opposite hand to hold onto a low lying table, desk, chair, or similar object for support. When you are so braced and supported against a sturdy object (almost like using it like a cane),  then bend straight from the hip while allowing the non-weight-bearing leg come off the ground a little behind you,  as you gracefully pick up the small object.This is a simple and easy technique everyone uses now and then, that seems to come naturally as a way to allow objects around you to carry your body weight as you bend over.  It should be used more often and more deliberately to save the back from the stress of frequent bending over for light work.
  • Squat lift – Used for lifting heavy objects like a 24-pack of soda or your 5 year-old.  Stand with your body as close to the object as possible, with your feet shoulder’s width apart.  Keeping your lower back as vertical as possible, squat down by bending the knees.  Firmly wrap your arms around the object you are about to pick up.  For safe and easy lifting it is critical that the object is held firmly against your body with no space between the object and you, since this contact allows you to place leverage against the load you are going to lift. Next, using the large muscles of your legs, raise the weight by standing up in one fluid movement.
  • Crane lift – Used for lifting heavy weight when you cannot get your body close to the object, as when it is not possible to do a squat lift.  This technique is great when objects must be lifted that are located in containers and confined areas, that it is not possible to get close to like lifting a child off a bed or out of crib, or groceries out of a shopping cart or car truck. Stand with your body as close to the object as you can, with your feet and knees shoulder width apart.  If possible, position your knees or top of the thighs so they are in contact with the obstruction that is between you and the object you are lifting.  Press the knees or thighs against the obstruction to give you leverage against the object you will be lifting.   Bend at the hips, allowing your buttocks to stick out behind you.  Firmly hold the object and lift, using the leverage of your knees thighs as a fulcrum, while lifting it up and as close to your body as possible.
  • The “Don’t lift” – Be smart and know when not to lift or move a heavy object that is beyond safe bounds.  Get help or have use equipment to move the heavy object, like a hand truck.  If you are using good lifting technique and still feel pain in the back while lifting or get that sense that the weight is beyond your limit, don’t lift it.

Use simple tools around the house to make work easier, to protect your body and bring all work closer to you so you do not have to stretch or strain to do it.  Work gloves, eye protection, breathing masks, and rubber mats to kneel on, all make work safer and easier to do.  Paint rollers and dusters with extension handles, long handled shovels and pruning shears extend your reach and provide leverage so the arms and back are less abused.

LIFTING summary

Do’s:

  • Always be sure of your footing; do not stand on a loose or moveable surface while lifting
  • Bend your knees as you squat down low toward the object being moved, do not bend  your back before or during the lift
  • Keep the low back relaxed and straight while mopping, running the vacuum or mowing the lawn
  • Hold object close to your body,
  • Lift objects only chest high; higher lifting requires help to get above shoulder level
  • Get help with heavy objects, either another person or equipment

Don’ts:

  • Don’t bend the back with the legs kept straight
  • Don’t twist while lifting, move the feet like a dancer by pivoting on the front part of the foot
  • Don’t use a sudden jerking action to move anything since this will transfer that impact into your body
  • Don’t lift above shoulder level

Low back injury can be avoided by thinking and planning to use the body in ways that limit twisting and forward flexion.

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