Digging out boxes of holiday decorations, hauling packages to and from the car, hiding gifts away on the higher shelves at the back of your closet … the Holiday Season certainly requires its fair share of bending, lifting and reaching. This, coupled with the cooler weather, makes December the ideal time for a refresher on proper lifting methods, says Chicago physical therapist Dr. Marc Gregory Guillen.
“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 Dr. Guillen, owner of Free Body Physical Therapy & Wellness in East Humboldt Park / Wicker Park. “Fortunately, it’s also a condition that’s very preventable, and one of the ways to keep the spine healthy is learning – and practicing – proper lifting techniques.”
Around 80 percent 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. And while preventing back pain is of key concern when one does a lot of bending and lifting, it’s not the only concern.
“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,” Dr. Guillen 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 or shoulders.”
So without further ado, Dr. Guillen offers the following tips for proper lifting:
Warm Up: Don’t ever assume your body’s ready to lift heavy objects without first being thoroughly warmed up. Take the time to stretch you lower back as well as your legs and hips. Also, do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing to the muscles in your body.
Get Close: Avoid reaching for a heavy or moderate-sized load. Get up nice and close to the box or object to minimize the force (in the arms, shoulders and back) needed to lift, and always hold it close to your body.
Bend & Lift with the Knees: We’ve all heard this before, and it’s true. But in doing so, keep your back straight and your body upright as you lower yourself to the object in question, then use your legs to rise back up.
Get a Grip: This seems to go without saying, but if you can’t get a strong, comfortable grip on the object in front of you – even if you know you can carry the weight – don’t try to be a hero. Find someone to help you or an alternative way of getting the object from A to B, such as a hand cart 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 the body, lower with the legs and move slowly and deliberately. You can just as easily injure yourself setting objects down as you can picking them up.
“During the process of lifting, keep from twisting or reaching while carrying a load,” Dr. Guillen added. “Don’t rush through the process of lifting, and if you’re tired, put it off until later.”
And if you do feel pain during or after lifting, or you have an injury or condition you feel is holding you back from moving properly, visit a physical therapist for a full assessment prior to trying any sort of heavy or awkward lifting.