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Safe Lift – Safe Back

by Dr. Isabel Perry, “The Safety Doctor”


(679 words)

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 combination.


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 muscles.


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 [email protected]