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Avoiding injury while lifting

09/03/2015

Continuing on from my how-to-sit-down masterclass, here’s a few tips on how to lift things in a way which will not harm your back.  Of course, many of you will have been told all this before by your Health and Safety officer, but a reminder doesn’t do any harm...and maybe it will remind you to actually DO it the way you know you should!

We’ve all done it...bend down to grab something off the floor, and oh help!  Completely stuck down there.  But why does this happen?!  The first thing to understand is your spine is incredibly flexible; it can bend, twist, turn and do just about anything you ask of it.  The trouble is, it’s actually not very good at it, so the amount of force that travels through the joints when you do something as simple as bending over is enough to cause no end of problem.  So, although you spine can do all these things, it’s best if it doesn’t.  Hence, always keep your back straight when lifting anything at all.

To do this, you’ll need to support it using the muscles around.  Now, the main groups involved when you’re bending forwards and backwards are going to be the front muscles (abdominals) and your back muscles.  The wonderful thing is, when you tense your abdominal muscles, there is an automatic activation of your back muscles as well.  So when you are picking anything up, keeping your back nice and straight, all you need to do is slightly tense your stomach muscles and your back muscles will automatically tense, fully supporting your spine.  The heavier the object you are trying to lift the more you will need to clench your abdominal muscles.

But how are you supposed to reach whatever it is on the floor if you are supposed to be keeping your back straight?  Well, if it’s on a table or raised off the flood in some other way, you can do it just be bending through your hips, using the hip-hinge described in the sit-stand blog.  This allows your back to stay straight and strong. 

If you are fairly flexible you might even be able to reach the floor doing this, but let’s face it – most of us aren’t going to be able to pick up anything lower than our knees just through bending at the hips.  So to get the rest of the way down, the knees are going to have to get involved.  Start off with sticking your bum out behind you until your torso is at about 45o, then let your knees flex to take you the rest of the way down.  This will take some practice to do correctly.  Your feet should be hip-width apart, and when you look down your knees should be staying in line with your second toe.  DON’T let them fall inwards so that your knees are together – this is likely to cause some fairly painful knee problems quite rapidly!  Your knees also shouldn’t travel any further forward than the tips of your toes.  Once in position, you can worry about picking up whatever you are aiming to lift.

To put all of that into 5 simple steps:

  • Position yourself so that the item you wish to pick up is directly in front of you, and you are as close as possible to it.  Place your fit so they are approximately hip-width apart.

  • Hinge forward from your hips.  Keep your back straight – imagine shutting a door behind you with your bum.

  • Now, flex your knees into a squat position; make sure your knees travel over your second toe (don’t let the knees move together) but not further forward than the tip of your toes.  Still keep your back straight.

  • Grasp the item you are trying to lift, and carefully reverse the above action to straighten.  Use your abdominal muscles to support your back; the heavier the object, the stronger this “brace” will need to be.

  • Practice this – the more you do it, the lower you will be able to bend.

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