If you have back pain, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), roughly 80 percent of adults have experienced low back pain at some point in their lives.
Lumbar, or lower back, muscle strains and sprains are the most common causes of back pain and can happen at any age. Because of its role in moving, twisting and bending — and bearing weight — the spine is prone to these types of muscular injuries.
Sprains and strains account for most acute back pain. Sprains are caused by overstretching or tearing ligaments, and strains are tears in tendon or muscle. Both can occur from twisting or lifting something improperly, lifting something too heavy or overstretching. These movements can also trigger muscle spasms — involuntary contractions of a muscle that can cause a great deal of pain.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 1 million workers suffer from back injuries each year, and back injuries account for 1 out of 5 workplace injuries or illnesses. The majority of these injuries occur while performing tasks that involve lifting.
While certain risk factors such as age, occupation, fitness level and weight can play a role in back pain, poor lifting techniques increase the risk of injury for everyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
“The most common injury associated with poor lifting technique is a strain of the low back,” explains Dr. Steven Allsing, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Injuries range from a simple strain that resolves spontaneously over time, to much more serious injuries to the intervertebral discs that can result in nerve compression. This may lead to numbness, weakness and pain.”
Safe lifting techniques reduce the risk of injury
The back isn’t the only part of the body at risk when not lifting safely. The neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, knees and abdominal muscles are also susceptible to injury. Dr. Allsing offers the following tips to reduce your risk:
- Do not lift more weight than you are able
- Keep the object you are lifting close to your body
- Avoid stooping with the low back: keep your back upright and lift with your knees
- Avoid twisting and turning while lifting
- Avoid extensive repetitive lifting
- Wear appropriate non-slip shoes to avoid slips and falls while lifting
“As we get older, being cautious with heavy or repetitive lifting becomes even more important,” says Dr. Allsing. “I often encourage older workers to make an effort to progress to a more supervisory role at work over time. Leave the heavy lifting to the younger folks.”
He reminds us, however, that everyone — young or old — is wise to pay careful attention to their body mechanics whenever they are lifting.