"I hurt my back lifting something heavy" - That's a phrase I hear often when people come in for low back pain
Is lifting something heavy going to be the reason why people get back pain?
The real answer......
Yes and no.
It really depends. For some it may not, and others, it always does.
I know, not what you want to hear, but let's dive in and explain how it can hurt you, as well as how you can put strategies in place to reduce the potential injury.
First off, "heavy" is a quite relative term when lifting an object up. I would say picking up 100lbs from the floor in a deadlift is not heavy at all, but for some, it's damn near impossible. Let's keep this in mind as we move forward.
Most back injuries when lifting something heavy occur while someone lifts with a rounded spine. It may seem fine when getting a piece of paper off the floor, but in this position, the muscles get lengthened and have less leverage to pull. This is especially important when lifting heavy objects from the ground as you will strain and run into the same problem over and over again.
Some circles may tell you to squat down to pick up objects, but even in a squat, if it gets too heavy for your body's capabilities, you will position yourself into a rounded spine position, placing in the same scenario again.
So what do we do?
One way is to learn how to hip hinge.
This is essentially the prerequisite move to a deadlift. (You don;t have to be deadlifitng to do this). A hip hinge will help load the hips and dissociate the low back from the hips to redistribute the load and provide the right leverage to lift from the ground.
Here's a quick video on how to learn a hip hinge.
Just remember, the goal is to keep the hips moving back, loading the butt and hamstrings. The spine stays stable with the torso folding as a result of the hips moving backwards. Your arms are just meat hooks that grab onto whatever you are picking up.
You DON'T want to pull up with the arms as it will change the mechanics around the spine.
Having the obliques engage will also assist taking pressure off the low back, It is important you feel these muscle engage with the hip hinge as well. I attached one of my favorite exercises to teach with a few variations.
(Notice when breathing out, the ribs come down and in, flattening the low back. Rib position is crucial in regards to spinal position and stability).
In summary, you want to be able to dissociate your hips from your low back in order to leverage joints and muscles built for bearing weight and creating force. Some individuals have a greater capacity to handle lifting an object the same way you do and may not get injured. However, their compensations may show up somewhere else.
Having more than one way to do something will always be the best way to keep you out of pain.
Now start hinging.
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and enjoys to help active adults maintain their lifestyle and provide natural solutions to their pain.