You heard it said countless times — bend your knees and use your legs when you lift. And you usually do your best to follow this sage advice. Why, then, did that last lift tweak your back and leave you in pain?
As a double board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Patrick McNulty knows a thing or two about the connection between lifting and back pain. At McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, he sees patients every day who suffer from back pain stemming from a wide range of reasons, from osteoarthritis to scoliosis and spinal stenosis. But one of the most common complaints we hear from our patients is that they lifted something heavy and now their back hurts.
Here’s how you can avoid pain and injury when you hoist heavy objects.
Whether you load and unload heavy boxes for a living, workout with free weights, or simply tote groceries into your house, if you perform these tasks incorrectly, you put your muscles, joints, and discs in danger.
If you rely solely on the muscles in your back to lift a heavy object off the ground, and the load is too much for them to handle, something’s gotta give — and it’s usually your back muscles. The excessive stress causes your muscle tissues to tear, an injury called a muscle strain, which is painful and often debilitating.
Improper technique specifically puts your joints at risk for injury. Each vertebra in your spine has a facet joint on either side, and overuse of your back to lift even small objects can cause irritation, pain, stiffness, even locking in these joints.
Bending at the waist to pick up a heavy box means you don’t engage the help of your knees, which would distribute the weight of the load and ease the pressure on your spine. Excess stress, especially if you happen to turn or twist while you’re lifting, falls squarely on your back and can easily displace or herniate your discs.
Fortunately, lifting injuries are nearly 100% preventable if you follow proper techniques. Here are Dr. McNulty’s top tips for keeping your back safe every time you lift.
“Bend your knees,” seems to be the mantra everyone remembers when they lift a heavy object, and it’s a good rule of thumb, but that alone won’t save your back.
To keep your body in the correct position, make sure you bend at your hips and not your lower back. Any curvature in your spine puts you at risk for injury, so keep your upper body straight by bending at your hips and knees.
The goal when lifting is to keep your posture neutral and your back straight. A good way to ensure this posture is to lift your chest and push it forward. This movement automatically pulls the rest of your body into proper alignment.
Another trick for keeping our chest out and your back straight is to look slightly upward as you lift. This draws your eyes and head up and juts your chest out, and the rest of the body follows.
The closer the object is to your body, the more control you have over it and your muscles. Keeping the weight of the object closer to your core eases the stress on your joints and muscles so you can avoid injury and pain.
If you’ve ever seen a golfer retrieve their ball from the hole, you’ll see that they’re onto something. With one hand on the club, they bend at the hips, not the knees or back. One leg comes off the ground for counter balance, and the club lends support. You can copy this technique at home or work when you need to pick up a small object off the floor.
If, despite your best efforts, you end up with back pain after lifting, Dr. McNulty can help. Of course, the treatment he recommends depends entirely on the type of injury you’ve sustained. He may suggest physical therapy and/or chiropractic care to relieve muscle tension pain.
If nerves are involved, you may benefit from a nerve block, spinal injection, or radiofrequency ablation to reduce inflammation and temporarily lessen the pain.
In some cases, surgery may be your best option. If this becomes necessary, you can rest assured you’re in the best hands with Dr. McNulty. He’s an award-winning leader in his field and uses the most advanced technology and minimally invasive techniques to treat even the most complicated spinal injuries.
To find out which treatment can resolve your back pain, schedule a consultation with Dr. McNulty at either location by calling or booking online.