We have all heard it over and over. “Lift with your legs, not your back” or “keep your back straight.”  What does that actually mean? 

When you lift, you want to use the muscles in your legs, instead of the muscles in your back, to do the work.  Particularly, you want to use your quads and gluteals, since they are large, strong muscles.  They are much less likely to get hurt and, if you do pull a leg muscle lifting, it will heal much quicker than a back muscle.  We also want to keep the back straight, so you keep the vertebrae in proper alignment and have less pressure on the disks.

Now we know why it is important to lift with our legs and keep our back straight when lifting, but how do we do that?  Some people picture going into a deep squat like a baseball catcher and keeping their back perfectly vertical.  If you have ever tried this, you know it is very awkward, hurts your knees, and feels unbalanced. 

Instead, picture a wrestler or a volleyball player in their ready position. 

  • Your feet should be shoulder width apart and you can stagger them about 6 inches for better stability, if you like. 
  • As you squat down, keep your shoulders square and head up. 
  • Your butt goes back and you bend at the hips and knees, keeping your back straight, but angled forward, not vertical because of the bend at the hips. This will help balance the load you are lifting and decrease pressure on your knees. 
  • Remember to breath.  Holding your breath increases pressure in your abdomen, so try breathing out as you lift.

Remember to use good lifting mechanics even when picking up a piece of paper or trash on the floor.  Half of your body weight is above your belly button, so if you pick up that piece of paper incorrectly you are lifting half of your body weight with your back.  Now that’s a heavy piece of paper!

Talk with your health care provider about any questions you have. Madonna TherapyPlus provides services to help you prevent injury, including physical and occupational therapy exercised customized for to fit your specific job duties.