Lifting Safety: Tips to Help Prevent Back Injuries

Back injuries are common at work, home, and play. They can be caused by accidents or improper lifting technique. Below are tips to lift safely and avoid back injuries.

Path to improved health

Before you start lifting, assess the object(s) you’re about to lift. A small size does not always mean a light load. Test the load by pushing on it lightly with your hands or feet. How easy it moves tells you how heavy it is. It’s important to make sure the objects are packaged well. The load’s weight needs to be balanced so it doesn’t move around. Unbalanced items can come loose when you lift and cause an accident.

Look around before you lift. There should be a clear path for you to carry your object. You also should know where you are going to put it down. Avoid walking on slippery, uneven surfaces while you’re carrying something.

The best way to pick up a load is to use handles or straps, if possible. Make sure you have an easy and tight grip before you lift. Using work gloves may help with this. You also should be close to the load you’re going to lift. Avoid reaching out for an object. This prevents strained muscles.

Use your arms, legs, and core body (abdominal muscles) to lift. Don’t use your back. This includes bending your knees to pick up something, instead of bending over at your waist. Maintain proper posture. Don’t arch your back. This is one way to cause an injury by using the wrong muscles. Another way to avoid hurting your back is to use a ladder when lifting something overhead.

It’s best to use slow and smooth movements to lift. Once you have your load, carry it straight on, instead of to one side. Quick, jerky, or twisted movements can pull your muscles.

The most important tip is don’t lift something that is beyond your strength. This is when most people have problems. They ignore their gut instincts that tell them to find another way to accomplish the move.

Things to consider

In addition to proper technique, warm up before lifting. Stretch your legs, arms, and back to engage your muscles. Know your limits, and don’t overdo it. Don’t carry too much in one load or setting. The correct weight is often less you than think. Don’t carry something that is too heavy. Try using a dolly or forklift, or asking others for help.

Daily stretches and exercise also can strengthen your back muscles. Exercising your core muscles is especially helpful. This prepares you in advance for lifting objects.

Do not rely on a back belt to protect you. There is no proof that these prevent back injuries. Last but not least, pace yourself. Take breaks between lifting to give your muscles a chance to rest and heal.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is the most common back injury from lifting?
  • How can I improve my environment to reduce my risk of back injuries?
  • Can I recover from a back injury?
  • Will a back injury lead to life-long pain?
  • Can surgery repair a back injury?

Resources

National Safety Council: Do You Know How to Lift and Carry Safely?

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Materials Handling: Heavy Lifting