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Lifting Mechanics 101

Woman kneeling to grab laundryLet’s face it. We have all used our back to lift things off the ground. However, when we continuously bend over with our back, instead of squatting with our legs, we create a bad habit. One that is hard to break until you have low back pain. Those small muscles in your low back are not strong enough to lift up a 20# load of laundry, a 30# backpack, or a 50# suitcase. Your larger leg muscles like your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluts are your powerhouse when it comes to lifting. Practice makes perfect when trying to break a bad habit for the sake of your health. The purpose of this blog is to review some good lifting mechanics and teach you advice so that you reduce your risk of a low back strain injury.

It’s as simple as remembering ESPN:

E - Elbows in and keep them close to your body while lifting. When your arms are extended out in front of you, a 1# weight now exerts 10# worth of force to your back. Yes, there is 10x the amount of strain to your back when an object is held away from your body. Keeping your elbows close to your body is a more efficient use of your muscles and it reduces strain to your spine.

S - Squat by bending your knees, not your back. Like mentioned above, your low back muscles like your multifidi, rotatores, and paraspinals do not have a mechanical advantage when lifting an item. Where does the stress go when you try to lift with your back muscles? To the lumbar vertebrae and discs. These are not structures which you want to injure when you can avoid it.

P - Pivot your feet and avoid twisting your back. When you are lifting one item from one area to another, the tendency is to twist around at your low back. This twisting motion puts unnecessary strain to your lumbar vertebrae and discs which can be avoided. By pivoting your feet in the direction that you are lifting an object, your back stays straight. Another way to think of this is: point your feet AND hips AND shoulders in the same direction.

N - Neutral positions are ideal.  When you hear the word “neutral” in reference to the body, think of the word “straight”. Keep your wrists, back, and neck in neutral or straight positions.  Avoid bending or extending these body parts when possible.

Two activities that are deceivingly tricky are laundry and loading the dishwasher:

  • Tips on Laundry:

    • For loading and unloading a front load washer/dryer, kneel to the ground to place clothing from a laundry basket into the machine. Stay close to the machine. Place a pillow/clothing underneath your knee for comfort. This position will keep your back straight (or in “neutral” position) enabling you to protect your back muscles.

    • For top load washer, keep close to the washer and lean against the machine with your body to take pressure off your back. Kick one leg out behind you to reach inside, which will counterbalance your weight and protect your back.

  • Tips for the Dishwasher:

    • Loading: kneel or mini squat to the ground to place dishes in bottom rack. Kick one leg out behind you while you place items on bottom rack, which will counterbalance your weight.

    • Unloading: Take entire silverware compartment out and place on counter for easy unloading. Kneel to the ground to stack plates together, then stand up to place your stacked plates away.

By remembering ESPN and adhering to these activity tips for household chores, you will be reducing your risk for injury while lifting.