Whether you are required to do some heavy lifting on the job or are trying to move from one house to another, you are in serious jeopardy of hurting your back.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in excess of one million workers will suffer a back injury each year, and that is only the injuries that occur on the job.
Thousands of other people across America will hurt their backs each year playing sports, moving furniture or simply putting on their shoes.
How can you avoid joining their numbers?
It turns out that there are several things that you can do to protect yourself from a back injury. Whether you are on the job or at home, use these tips to avoid hurting yourself.
Five Major Risk Factors for Back Injuries
Research demonstrates that there are five leading causes of injuries to the back. These are:
- Posture problems
- Being in poor physical condition
- Inappropriate body mechanics
- Poor lifting techniques
- Projects that demand excessive high energy
Let’s take a closer look at some of these risk factors.
It is not unusual for most people to work with their posture out of whack. This may mean with the head pitched forward, which puts many of the spinal discs out of alignment.
Instead of being content with a body that is out of alignment, make a resolution to maintain a neutral posture as much as possible.
What does it mean to have a neutral posture? Usually, it means:
- Your head is balanced over your shoulders rather than protruding to the front
- Your shoulders are not hunched, but relaxed
- Your spinal column is allowed to align with its natural curves
- If you are seated, your forearms and thighs are parallel to the floor and you are using your chair back for support
- If you are standing, you prop one foot up on a stool, chair or other item
Be Willing to Move and Stretch
Our bodies are designed to move, stretch and flex. We weren’t meant to be statues who sit or stand in one position for hours on end.
Doing so can put a great deal of unnecessary strain on your back.
Your spine will feel much better if you frequently shift your position. Moreover, it is a good idea to schedule several stretching sessions throughout the day.
For instance, you may want to spend three to five minutes of every hour doing some stretching. This applies whether you mostly sit or stand throughout your work day. Your body, and your back in particular, will definitely thank you for giving it a break.
Whether you must sit or stand while working, try to keep your body flexible rather than rigid. Fixed posture will only tire you out more quickly, and it may be responsible for decreasing your productively.
Listen to Your Body
Your body is constantly talking to you, but are you listening?
That little ache between your shoulder blades is a signal that it’s time to stretch.
That pull in your lower back is telling you that repeated bending and lifting are taking their toll.
Are you determined to just “work through” these warning signs?
If so, then you may be setting yourself up for a major injury that could put you out of work or keep you from participating in your favorite after-work activities for weeks or months.
It is wise to learn to tune into your body on a frequent basis. If you schedule stretching sessions every hour or so, then this can be a really good opportunity to assess how your body feels and what it is telling you.
Maybe it is time to take a longer break or to find a safer, more ergonomic way to do the job.
Guidelines for Safe Lifting
Everyone has to lift a heavy object at one point or another. When it’s your turn, make certain that you do it “right.”
This means observing a few safety guidelines that will help to ensure that you don’t hurt your back or anything else while you are lifting.
Before you lift anything, be certain that your feet are firmly planted to give you a stable base. Then, bend at your knees rather than your waist, which would only put unnecessary strain on your spine.
Before lifting the object, tighten your core muscles to give added support to your spine. Grip the object with both hands and pull the object in close to your body.
As you lift, let your leg muscles do most of the work. Keep your back as upright and natural as possible. Keep your movement slow, steady and smooth. There’s no need for a jerking motion, which is only likely to cause harm.
Breathe with the motion, and if you feel that you must hold your breath to pick up the object, then it is time to get some assistance. There’s no rule saying that you have to lift that item all by yourself.
The Don’ts of Proper Lifting
Just as important as lifting the “right” way is avoiding some of the worst lifting practices that are unfortunately too common.
These practices include lifting an object while bending across an obstacle or while having to reach or stretch for the item. This only puts you out of balance and is an excellent way to strain your back.
It also is unwise to twist while lifting. If at all possible, it is always recommended to lift straight up, then turn by moving your feet.
Similarly, it does not make sense to lift an object with one hand. Once again, this leaves you unbalanced.
Most experts in back injuries further recommend that people not try to catch an item that they have dropped. It is far preferable for that item to hit the floor than it is to give yourself a troubling back injury.
What About Back Belts?
In workplaces where employees are routinely expected to lift items, it is not unusual to see the workers wearing back belts or back supports. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that wearing this equipment actually provides any kind of protection against back injuries.
Experts on workplace safety suggest that there simply is no substitute for using proper lifting techniques and for working as a team to move heavier loads.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing a back support device if it helps you to remember how to lift correctly.
Poor Lifting Technique Leads to Injuries
When people do not follow safe lifting guidelines, they are opening themselves up to numerous painful consequences.
Muscle injuries may include muscle strains or sprains to the ligaments. Muscle strains occur when frail muscles are pushed past their limits and tear or become overstretched. Ligament sprains happen when the fibrous tissue that is found between two bones is torn or stretched.
Disc injuries also may occur when poor lifting techniques are used. This shifts the discs out of alignment, causing them to contact the spinal cord or the root nerves. An incredibly painful condition, discs also are susceptible to rupturing.
Furthermore, poor lifting techniques can cause injuries to the joints, which may lock up or stiffen. This condition may cause not only back pain but also pain in the thigh, hips or buttocks.
Protect Your Back with Integrative Physical Health
If you are one of the many people who has suffered a back injury, there is help for you at Integrative Physical Health. The key to making you feel better may not be just another prescription but rather a multi-disciplinary approach that blends the best treatments available.
Schedule an appointment today to learn more about how Integrative Physical Health may be able to soothe your back pain so that you can get back to work and enjoying the life that you love.