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How to Avoid a Spinal Injury From Lifting

How to Avoid a Spinal Injury From Lifting

How to Avoid a Spinal Injury From Lifting

Walking, sitting, standing, bending and all other physical activities would be impossible without your spine. The delicate system of tissues, nerves, joints and bones that make up the spine seamlessly supports the human body. As we age, the spine becomes worn and vulnerable to injury, which is why up to 80% of the U.S. population will experience back pain at some point in their life.

It’s crucial to take care of your spine to avoid painful injuries and disabling health conditions so you can enjoy a healthy and active lifestyle. Learning how to lift things correctly will help you preserve your back.

Incorrectly lifting heavy objects is one of the most common causes of back injuries. Whether you’re unloading inventory at work, carrying a child or working out at the gym, it’s essential to practice proper lifting techniques to avoid a spinal injury. This guide will explain lifting safety to help preserve your back.

Types of Back Injuries From Lifting

Lifting heavy objects from an awkward angle places excess stress on the soft tissues and ligaments that support your spine. The lower back is commonly vulnerable to injury. When you overexert your back, you risk causing various conditions, from temporary soreness to permanent spinal damage. Here are some of the most common back injuries from lifting:

Disc Injury

There are discs located between each vertebra that cushion your spine so you can bend and twist comfortably. Discs consist of a jelly-like substance protected by a fibrous outer layer.

Putting too much strain on your spine can cause these discs to bulge or shift, pressing on the surrounding nerves and causing intense pain. A herniated disc occurs when the outer shell breaks open and the inner material leaks out, which causes similar discomfort. Some disc injuries cause minimal symptoms, while others result in chronic pain and numbness in the arms and legs.

Joint Injury

Each vertebra has two facet joints that allow the spine to bend and move. When the joints become injured during lifting, they become swollen and stiff. People report feeling like their back is locking up.

Joint injuries cause limited mobility and discomfort that can spread from the lower back down into your buttocks and legs. Repeated injury or overuse can wear out the joints in your spine, causing facet joint syndrome. Facet joint syndrome can cause chronic pain, muscle spasms and stiffness along your spine.

Muscle Strains

Incorrectly lifting heavy objects can injure the fibrous tendons and muscles in your spine. A muscle strain from lifting results from overstretching or tearing the soft tissues. Pulling or twisting a muscle or tendon can cause swelling and discomfort. You may also experience pain or limited range of motion while using your back.

Ligament Sprain

Like a muscle strain, a ligament sprain occurs when the fibrous tissue that connects your bones to your joints becomes injured. You may hear a tearing or popping noise at the time of injury. A sprain typically requires more pressure or force to stretch or dislocate a ligament. Ligament sprains cause similar pain and stiffness while moving and bending.


When the soft tissues in the lower back are stretched or torn from lifting heavy objects, fluid rushes to the area to heal the injury. As a result, the tissue becomes swollen and inflamed, causing stiffness and discomfort. Inflammation may also cause cramping, muscle spasms and soreness.

Proper Lifting Techniques to Avoid Injuring Your Back

Using the correct lifting posture while at work or the gym can help strengthen your muscles and improve your health. Yet many people still injure their backs from improper lifting techniques. These simple steps can help you avoid back pain from heavy lifting. Here’s how to lift without hurting your back:

1. Create a Plan

Before even touching the item, decide where it’s going and make sure your path is free of tripping hazards. Get help moving things that are too heavy for one person. If you’re lifting with other people, communicate the plan so you’re all on the same page. Waiting until you’re holding a heavy object to decide what you’re doing can place unnecessary strain on your back.

2. Lift Within Reach

Position your body close to the item so you have the full strength of your arms to keep the object stable. Make sure you have a firm grip on the item before lifting it.

3. Straighten Your Posture

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders back so your chest is slightly lifted. Engage your stomach muscles to help keep your spine aligned. If the item is low to the ground, squat down with your back straight until your hips are below your knee joints.

4. Lift With Your Legs

This is the most crucial step to prevent a hurt back from lifting. Use your leg muscles — not your back — to lift the object from the ground. From the squatted position, you can slowly push off the floor with your legs while straightening your hips. Avoid twisting or turning to keep your back as straight as possible. Hold the item at a comfortable height between your mid-thigh and shoulder. Carrying an object too high or low can place excess pressure on your spine.

5. Put the Item Down Carefully

Maintain proper lifting posture until you transfer the entire weight of the item to another surface. If you’re placing the object on the ground, carefully squat with your back straightened until it reaches the floor.

What to Do for an Injured Back From Lifting

Lower back pain can make it challenging to perform even the most basic activities. Some people can feel too stiff and sore to get out of bed. Depending on the cause of your discomfort, there are various ways to treat a back injury from lifting so you can get back to your life. Here are some common treatments to soothe your lifting injury:

1. Ice and Heat Therapy

Icing your injury right away helps reduce pain and swelling. Cover the ice with a towel to protect your skin and apply it to your injury for 10-20 minutes. After giving your skin a break between applications, you can repeat this process 8-10 times per day.

If you’re experiencing chronic pain or stiffness, heat therapy can help relax your muscles. Place a warm compress or heating pad on your injury, being careful not to burn your skin. Heat therapy can be applied for a few minutes to several hours, depending on your needs. Minor stiffness and discomfort may improve within 15-20 minutes. For severe injuries, it may take up to 2 hours to achieve relief. Consult your doctor before applying prolonged heat therapy as it can be dangerous for people with preexisting health conditions.

2. Massage

A gentle massage can help relax your muscles and draw blood flow to your injury. A trained massage therapist can target the strained muscle to reduce tension and improve your mobility. While this treatment is typically safe, inform your massage therapist of your injury so they don’t accidentally cause further pain or damage. Check with your doctor beforehand if you have any concerns about harming an existing spinal condition.

3. Over-the-Counter Medication

Over-the-counter medications reduce mild pain and discomfort so you can relax and let your muscles heal. You can purchase ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen and other pain relievers without a prescription at your local drug store. Follow the recommended dosage on the packaging, and ensure there won’t be interactions with other medications you take. If your pain continues, you may need a prescription medication from your doctor.

4. Light Exercise

While resting for a few days can help your muscles heal, it’s important to stay active to keep your muscles strong and flexible. Once your pain eases up, start with gentle stretching to loosen up your back and improve your circulation. When you’re ready, you can slowly add strength exercises to help your muscles regain power and stability. Take it slow so you don’t cause more damage to your healing tissues.

Is Weight Training Good for Back Pain?

Back pain is common among weightlifters who haven’t learned proper form. When you weight train correctly, it can significantly improve the spine. Weightlifting can help your back by strengthening the muscles, increasing your flexibility and reducing body fat that can put pressure on your spine. Training your muscles with weight training can make it easier for your body to perform everyday activities. Weight training safely and correctly can help reduce existing back pain and prevent future injuries.

The following tips will help you achieve these health benefits and avoid throwing out your back from lifting:

  • Warm up thoroughly: Get your blood flowing with a few minutes of cardio to prepare your muscles for weight training. Jogging on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike will increase your heart rate and lubricate your joints to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Maintain good posture and form: Keeping your back aligned and using your legs to support the item you’re carrying is key to good posture. Study correct lifting posture and consult a personal trainer to avoid causing further damage to your spine.
  • Build up your strength: Start with smaller weights and slowly work your way up to prevent injuries. Over time, you’ll become strong enough to lift heavier weights and do more advanced exercises.
  • Listen to your body: While it’s normal to feel sore, you should avoid exercises that cause pain. If your back pain increases at any time, switch to less intense workouts or take a few days off to rest your body.

How to Protect Your Back While Lifting in the Workplace

In 2016, 134,550 cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders involving the back were reported in the United States. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include injuries to the muscles, tendons, discs and other delicate tissues that make up the spine. Workers who frequently lift heavy objects, move hefty loads, work in awkward postures, bend and reach for items or perform repetitive tasks have a higher risk of developing MSDs.

You can significantly lower your risk of developing a spinal injury at work by practicing proper lifting techniques. The following tips will help you protect your back from lifting in the workplace:

  • Follow the proper lifting techniques outlined above.
  • Plan your lifts carefully to minimize reaching and twisting.
  • Ensure you’re maintaining correct posture throughout the day.
  • Use carts, dollies, forklifts and other mechanical resources for heavy loads.
  • Take breaks or rotate positions for heavy lifting jobs.
  • Keep your body healthy and strong to reduce your risk of injury.
  • Stretch regularly to keep your muscles loose.
  • Ask for help when you need it, no matter the size of the load.

Should You Work Through Back Pain?

While it may seem counterproductive to work out while your body is injured, exercise can help your body recover. If you’re wondering if it’s safe to work out while experiencing back pain, the answer depends on the nature of your injury and the severity of your pain.

If you’ve recently started exercising or transitioned to a more rigorous workout, mild aches and pains are normal and often subside within a few days. Intense pain or muscle spasms that impact your mobility are signs that your body needs rest. If exercise is causing your back pain to intensify, you should stop and consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor to identify the underlying problem.

If traditional exercises are causing you pain, you can try other physical activities to keep your muscles strong and flexible. Here are some alternative ways to stay in shape:

  • Water aerobics: Aquatic therapy allows you to exercise in water, which reduces the pressure on your joints. It’s a pain-free alternative for people with back injuries and chronic spinal conditions.
  • Yoga: Beginners yoga is a low-impact activity that focuses on relaxing and strengthening the body with controlled breathing and athletic poses. It helps reduce back pain by stretching your muscles and realigning your spine.
  • Pilates: This exercise is ideal for people with back pain because it focuses on strengthening your muscles and improving your posture, flexibility and alignment. Pilates is a low-impact yet challenging exercise that can help reduce your pain and increase your mobility.

When to See a Doctor for Back Pain From Lifting

It’s vital to take care of your spine so you can maintain an active and pain-free lifestyle. Typically, with rest and self-care, minor sprains and strains from lifting heal on their own. For severe injuries and spinal conditions, you should seek medical treatment from an experienced physician. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • There was a loud popping sound when you injured your back.
  • The pain hasn’t improved within 1-2 weeks or has gotten worse.
  • You’re experiencing weakness or tingling in your arms and legs.
  • The pain becomes more intense with certain positions or movements.
  • You’re having trouble controlling your bladder or bowels.
  • You’re experiencing unexplained weight loss.
  • You have a fever or flu-like symptoms.

Get Help for Your Back Pain at the Metropolitan Pain & Spine Institute

Heavy lifting is a part of life for many people, but spinal injuries don’t have to be. Find relief for your back pain at the Metropolitan Pain & Spine Institute. Our board-certified team members are dedicated to finding the fastest and least invasive treatments so you can enjoy an active and fulfilling life. We’ll explain all of your treatment options and answer any questions you may have in an open and honest environment.

Schedule an appointment today for effective back pain treatments!

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