Safe Lifting Technique to Protect Your Back

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One of the most common causes of low back pain and sciatica is poor lifting technique or frequent and heavy lifting. When encountering something to lift, there are steps to take to make sure you are lifting properly and safely. It is a good idea to check in with your physical therapist to learn how to lift properly. Your PT can assess your technique and help you make any changes as necessary.

When lifting items, it is important to learn how to lift properly to help prevent injury. Common injuries from lifting may include: 

  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder and arm pain
  • Hand and wrist pain

Any of these injuries may occur as a result of lifting improperly, or lifting may simply exacerbate a current problem.

What Can Happen if I Lift Improperly?

If you consistently lift heavy items or bend forward frequently, you may be setting yourself up for back pain. When you bend forward, the forward curve in your spine, called a lordosis, straightens out or reverses. This can place excessive pressure on your spinal discs. When this happens, the disc can be pushed out of place and become herniated or ruptured, leading to pain and sciatica.

If you are feeling any low back pain before or after lifting, visit your doctor right away to get an accurate diagnosis and to get started on treatment right away.

Safe Lifting Technique

Here is how to lift properly:

  1. Stand close to the load and center yourself over it with your feet shoulder width apart
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles
  3. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and squat down to the floor
  4. Get a good grasp on the load with both hands
  5. Keeping the load close to your body use your leg muscles to stand up, lifting the load off the floor
  6. Your back should remain straight throughout lifting, using only the muscles in the legs to lift the load
  7. Do not twist your body when moving the load. Instead, take small steps with your feet turning until you are in the correct position
  8. Again bend at the knees using only your leg muscles and place the load in the appropriate spot

The best course to take when you encounter a heavy load is to find a friend or buddy to lift the load with you. Of course, if the load is too heavy, you need to get help or use some other form of mechanical means to lift your items. Don't take chances with your back.

What if you have to lift something very light? Can you just bend over at your back and lift away? The answer is no. You must bend properly each and every time you lift, regardless of the size and weight of the object. A good way to keep your back in the optimal position while lifting is to keep your head up as you bend. This naturally keeps your low back and neck in a neutral position, so your spine remains protected when lifting even the smallest load.

A Word From Verywell

Lifting heavy items can place a significant stress on your body and may lead to pain or limited motion. Check in with your physical therapist to learn how to properly lift and carry items to prevent back pain or neck pain.

Edited by Brett Sears, PT, the Physical Therapy Expert on