From digging out boxes of holiday decor and hauling packages to and from the home, to hiding gifts away on higher shelves at the back of your closet, the Holiday Season requires its fair share of bending, lifting and reaching.
This, coupled with the cooler weather, makes December an ideal time for a refresher on proper lifting methods, says Bellevue physical therapist Russell Kowalinski.
“Back pain and injury can put a real damper on the Holiday Season, yet it’s one of the most common conditions we treat as medical professionals,” said Kowalinski, clinic director of Peak Sports & Spine Physical Therapy in Bellevue.
“Fortunately, it’s also a condition that’s preventable. One of the ways to keep the spine healthy is learning, and practicing, proper lifting techniques.”
Needless to say, preventing back pain is a key concern when someone does a lot of bending and lifting. After all, approximately 80% of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, making it one of the top causes of disability in the U.S.
The back, however, should not be one’s only area of concern when lifting.
“When we talk about proper lifting techniques, we’re talking about protecting the back, yes. But, we’re also looking to minimize strain on the entire body,” Kowalinski said. “The goal is to put yourself in a position that allows the body’s musculoskeletal system to work as one cohesive unit, without putting too much strain on one area, such as the lower back, hips or shoulders.”
Taking this all into consideration, Kowalinski offers the following tips for proper lifting:
Warm Up: Don’t ever assume your body is ready to lift heavy objects without first being thoroughly warmed up. Take the time to stretch your lower back, legs and hips. Also, do a few jumping jacks, high knees or lunges to get your blood flowing.
Get Close: Avoid reaching for heavy or moderately sized objects. Get nice and close to the box or object to minimize the force (in the arms, shoulders and back) necessary to lift the item.
Bend and Lift with the Knees: We’ve all heard this before, and that’s because it’s true. Keep your back straight and body upright as you lower yourself to the object in question. Then, use your legs to rise into a standing position.
Get a Grip: If you can’t get a strong, comfortable grip on an object – even if you know you can carry the weight – don’t push your luck. Find someone to help or an alternative way of moving the object from point A to B, such as a handcart or dolly.
Reverse the Steps: When you get to where you’re going, set the item down just as you picked it up, but in reverse. Keep it close to your body, and lower with your legs. Move slowly and deliberately. You can just as easily injure yourself while setting objects down as by picking them up.
“As you’re lifting something, also try to keep from twisting or reaching while carrying the weight,” Kowalinski added. “Don’t rush through the process of lifting, and if you’re tired, save the task for later.”
Finally, if you feel pain during or after lifting, or you have an injury or condition you believe is keeping you from moving properly, visit a physical therapist for a full assessment.