Everyone is susceptible to back injury. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries account for one of every five workplace injuries or illnesses. What does this mean for you?
Back injury is best avoided at all costs. Once you have injured your back, it becomes more vulnerable to future injury. A back injury can alter your entire quality of life and possibly your livelihood, especially if it recurs or becomes chronic.
Whether you have a strong back or have hurt your back before, it is well worth it to:
- Stop before casually picking up a heavy or even a light load.
- Plan the best way to lift what’s in front of you. This might include enlisting the help of one or more people.
- Lift and move slowly and carefully.
The time you take to use the correct lifting mechanics is far less than the days, weeks, or months it can take you to heal from a back injury.
What types of lifting can cause injury? Before focusing on the right way to lift, review the following common lifting mistakes that can easily lead to a back injury. Make sure never to:
- Allow your back to curve forward while grasping an object, then lift by straightening your back.
- Bend at the hips but keep your legs straight while grasping and lifting.
- Twist your back while lifting or holding. This often happens when you turn your shoulders but not your hips.
- Hold an object away from your body.
- Lift a heavy object (or child) above shoulder level.
- Attempt to lift an object that’s too heavy or awkward for one person to safely lift.
- Underestimate the need to be careful when lifting a light object.
How can I lift without hurting my back? Follow these basic rules to protect your back while lifting:
- Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If necessary, put one knee to the floor and extend your other knee in front of you, bent at a right angle (half kneeling).
- Press your chest straight-forward (enough to allow a person in front of you to read a name tag pinned to your chest). This helps keep your upper back straight while maintaining a slight arch in your lower back.
- Slowly lift by straightening your hip and knee joints (not your back). If you are half kneeling, straighten one leg or the other first, keeping your back straight.
- Hold the load as close to your body as possible, at the level of your navel.
- Use your feet to change direction, taking small steps.
- Lead with your hips as you change direction. Keep your shoulders in parallel line with your hips as you move.
- Set down your load carefully, squatting with the knees and hips only.
By following these basic guidelines, you can substantially lower your chance of a back injury. In addition to following these suggestions at work, inform your family and friends of ways they can safely lift items around the house. Back injuries can happen at any time — safe practices are your key to avoid a potentially serious injury.