Picture this. You are at work and a co-worker is asking you to pick up a heavy box off the
ground. Your co-worker tells you, “make sure you lift with your back bent.” Wait, that doesn’t sound right does it? I think it is fair to say we have all been there before. We can all remember that coach, or workout buddy, or HR video about body mechanics telling you, “always lift a heavy object with a straight back. What if I told you that advice was wrong?
A recent literature review in the JOSPT (Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy) recently looked into the advice given to people lifting objects at work. They compared how people tend to lift objects and looked to see if those people develop back pain as a result. Their findings are kind of mind blowing because nothing could be found to justify the advice, “lift with your back straight/neutral.” People were not injured more or less by a flexed back posture vs a straight back posture. Interesting right? Think that can’t be possible and you know a flexed back posture will cause back pain? Check out the “Atlas Stone” lift done in
strongman competitions. Competitors lift 100-350 lb concrete balls off the ground all while using a flexed back. Seriously, check it out. It is pretty insane.
Turns out a majority of people lift objects with a flexed or bent back, which kind of makes sense if you think about it. I mean how often do you get into a wide stance, back straight, then go down with your legs and come back up without using your legs? Especially at work, where you are not wearing workout or flexible clothing, you are probably in a hurry, have a shoe with a heel on it (yes, even us guys will be in shoes with a heel), and are in the middle of multi-tasking duties and don’t have time to really think about how you lift. So, what does that mean? Should you just ignore all that guidance? How should you lift an object off the ground?
Well, lets start by saying you can probably lift a heavy object off the ground with poor form and posture a couple of times. Your body will compensate and perform the lift, but it is not something you want to keep on doing over, and over, and over again. The researchers in the JOSPT review go on to mention that repeated lifting and heavier object lifting is what actually ends up leading to back pain.
Basically, if you lift a heavy object with poor conditioning, then you are putting yourself at risk for developing back pain. Usually, having a flexed posture when lifting tends to cause back pain because your body is in a flexed posture for a large part of the day. Don’t think so? When you sit, your back is flexed. When you drive, your back is flexed. Now how many of us spend a lot of time sitting and driving during the day?
If you are currently in pain, I would highly recommend reaching out and scheduling an appointment with a Board Certified Physical Therapist (PT). Not all PTs are equal and you want to make sure you get the best level of care. Deep breathing exercises also tend to be really helpful and when you are in pain, your breathing gets shallow. So make sure you take some time in your day to breath deeply. There are ways to help stop the pain and one technique I have found to be really beneficial is to exercise your back into an extended posture. You can check out a video I did to give you some more ideas. Stay tuned to my next BLOG post where I’ll discuss 3 exercises and movements you can do to stop the pain.