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Back Problems: Proper Lifting

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No one is immune to having a back injury. Whether you have a strong back or have hurt your back before, it is well worth it to:

  • Stop yourself before casually picking up a light or heavy load.
  • Plan in your mind for the best way to lift what's in front of you. This could include enlisting help from one or more people.
  • Lift and move slowly and carefully.

The time you take to use the right lifting mechanics is far less than the days, weeks, or months it can take to heal from a back injury.

Before focusing on the right way to lift, review the following common lifting mistakes that easily lead to a back injury:

  • Allowing the back to curve forward while you grasp an object, then lifting by straightening the back
  • Bending at the hips but keeping the legs straight while grasping and lifting
  • Twisting the back while lifting or holding, usually by turning the shoulders, but not the hips
  • Holding an object away from the body
  • Lifting a heavy object (or child) above shoulder level
  • Attempting to lift an object that's too heavy or awkward for one person to safely lift
  • Underestimating the need to be careful when lifting a light object

Test Your Knowledge

I only need to be careful about body mechanics when I'm lifting something that's heavy or awkward.


Back injury is best avoided at all costs. After the first time 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 returns or becomes chronic.

Poor lifting technique can injure your back in various ways:

  • Muscle or ligament strain—or tiny tears in the muscle or ligament—commonly results from a combination of poor body mechanics and too much of a burden on your back muscles.
  • Spinal disc injury is often caused by forward bending of the spine and poor lifting technique. A spinal disc that is squeezed by the vertebrae above and below it can bulge or break open (herniated disc), causing back and leg pain and numbness (sciatica) and sometimes bowel and bladder problems.
  • Vertebrae can become damaged during awkward lifting.

Test Your Knowledge

Poor lifting technique can cause an injury to the muscle, spinal discs, or bone.


Follow these basic rules to protect your back while liftingClick here to see an illustration.:

  • Keep a wide base of support. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other (karate stance).
  • Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If needed, put one knee to the floor and your other knee in front of you, bent at a right angle (half kneeling).
  • Maintain good posture. Look straight ahead, and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. This helps keep your upper back straight while maintaining a slight arch in your lower back.
  • Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back). Keep your back straight, and don't twist as you lift.
  • Hold the load as close to your body as possible, at the level of your belly button.
  • Use your feet to change direction, taking small steps.
  • Lead with your hips as you change direction. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.
  • Set down your load carefully, squatting with the knees and hips only.

Test Your Knowledge

Safe lifting is intuitive—we do it without thinking about it.


If you need information specific to your daily activities, you can consult with:

You can find more information in the following topics:

Low Back Pain
Herniated Disc
Office Ergonomics

If you want to learn more, the following resources are available:


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
6300 North River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018-4262
Phone: (847) 823-7186
Fax: (847) 823-8125
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) provides information and education to raise the public's awareness of musculoskeletal conditions, with an emphasis on preventive measures. The AAOS website contains information on orthopedic conditions and treatments, injury prevention, and wellness and exercise.

American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
9700 West Bryn Mawr Avenue
Suite 200
Rosemont, IL 60018-5701
Phone: (847) 737-6000
Fax: (847) 737-6001
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR) is the medical society for the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation. The website includes a directory of member PM&R physicians (physiatrists) that can be searched by last name, location, or telephone number.

American Physical Therapy Association
1111 North Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
Phone: 1-800-999-APTA (1-800-999-2782)
(703) 684-2782
Fax: (703) 684-7343
TDD: (703) 683-6748
Web Address:

The American Physical Therapy Association is a national organization representing nearly 70,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapist education, practice, and research. The APTA also provides information and education to the public about physical therapy and how it is used to treat certain conditions.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerJoan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last RevisedDecember 20, 2011

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