Safe Lift – Safe Back
by Dr. Isabel Perry, “The
How often do you lift something? Dozens of times a day? We’re lifting things all day long, from a
toothbrush in the morning to bags of groceries, small children, big heavy boxes
and furniture. Lifting is such an
integral part of everything we do that we tend to do it automatically, without
thinking. And that’s when it can become
a problem - suddenly we’ve lifted something and our back starts to hurt.
Lifting things incorrectly can cause a variety of injuries
to our back and other parts of our body.
Back strain, caused by overstretching certain muscles, is the most
common type of injury. Lifting
incorrectly can also cause a hernia.
These types of injuries can be worse if we’re not in good physical
condition. Poor posture, lack of
exercise, and stress, coupled with incorrect lifting, can be a hazardous
The best lifters in the world are small children. As adults we should emulate the techniques
they use automatically. Watch any small
child and you will see them:
Bend at the knees – they squat
Keep the head up – they squat
Keep the back straight – they don’t have the
agility to bend and lift at the same time
Lift with their legs – they don’t have a choice,
with their weak arms
Hold the load close to their body – if it’s too
far away from their body, they can’t get their arms around it
Avoid twisting – they fall
Find stable footing – they fall
Let you know when it’s too heavy – they cry or
call out for help
Safe lifting involves learning how our back works and using
the right methods whenever we lift something larger than a toothbrush. There are several steps to take every time
you are about to lift something:
Size up the load: Look it over, decide if you can
handle it alone or need some help. Often
we look at something that is questionable and lift it anyway, rather than
appear weak to others. Keeping up the
appearance that you are strong is not worth hurting your back.
Size up the area: Before you begin moving things make
sure that there aren’t any obstacles in the way. Make sure that you can make any turns without
running into another object or stumbling over something on the floor.
Keep your back straight: Bend
at the knees – not the waist. As we
grow, we have a better sense of balance and forget to use our leg muscles to do
the work. Bending at the waist will put
strain on the back.
Get a good hold: Your grip has to be firm in order to
move something efficiently. If you don’t
have a good hold on the item, it can slip out of your grasp and fall – damaging
the item and possibly you as well. Using
gloves will also help give you a better grip and keep hands safe.
Find stable footing: You will be able to keep your
balance better and use your leg muscles more effectively. These muscles are stronger than your back
Lift close to the body: Don’t try to lift something
that is away from your body. You won’t
be able to get a good grip on it.
Reaching may strain your back.
Avoid twisting: Use your feet to change
directions. Always move with your whole
body. Twisting your upper body to move
an object will put additional stress on your back.
Teamwork: It’s easier and faster to have a helper in
moving things. Be sure to discuss how
you’re going to lift, and what direction you’re going in, and make sure that
there are no obstacles. Lift, carry, and
lower the object in unison. If you’re
losing your grip, warn your partner and put the load down, reposition
yourselves, and then continue. A
moment’s pause may save dropping or injury.
A back injury, besides being very painful, can leave you
incapacitated for weeks and may even cause permanent damage. Follow the steps for safe lifting, and you
will be carrying things for years to come!
Dr. Isabel Perry is
an internationally-known safety expert, motivational speaker, author and safety
educator. Based in Orlando, Florida, she can be reached at 407-291-1209 or via e-mail at