How To Lift for Work and Play

This is a guide to help you navigate on how you might improve your tolerance to lifting.

Is Lifting Inherently Bad for You?

A common myth is that lifting is inherently bad for your back. Recent evidence has challenged the idea that we should avoid lifting with our backs. Even if you experience pain or flare ups, lifting is almost always safe and an important motion to get your back pain under control.

Back pain researchers Mary O’Keefe and Kieran O’Sullivan state in their article, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Back Pain,

It is true that doing manual jobs in an awkward posture with heavy loads and objects not close to the person's body increases the risk of an episode of new onset low back pain. Interestingly, the risk increases if the person is distracted or tired during the manual jobs. This still does not mean that these activities are dangerous or doing damage or that these activities should be avoided.

Lifting is a natural motion that all of us have to do during our lives and our backs are made to bend and lift.

Avoidance of lifting or pain can be a contributing factor to ongoing pain. It can take practice and dedication to work lifting back into our lives. It is important to keep trying, even when setbacks occur. It may take many attempts, possibly with the help of coaches, to find what works for you.

Pain Doesn’t Always Equal Damage

It is almost always safe to move despite ongoing pain. A protective pain buffer can give us a safety cushion to nudge into pain. This allows us to use movement as an important stimulus to adapt and grow more resilient to lifting despite ongoing pain.

Pain Buffer Zone

Tips for Lifting

  • Stay relaxed and move fluidly with light loads! It can feel natural to protect by bracing your muscles in your core but this actually can lead to more pain if continued day after day.
  • Lifting heavy Loads! We are naturally stronger in certain positions, and using a combination of squatting techniques and deadlifting techniques can be helpful for lifting heavier loads. Find a few squatting and deadlifting techniques that work for you and build resilience to them.
  • Stay near a neutral range with your spine for heavy lifting. Neutral is a range, not one position. When lifting heavy loads, work around a neutral position that feels best for you!
  • Keep the weight close to your body. This reduces the overall load of the object.
  • Lift in a way that feels comfortable for you. There is no one right way to lift. Find what works for you and your body. That can be a combination of lifting with your legs and back!
  • Prepare your body to lift! The more we do something, the more our bodies become resilient to the movement. Lifting as an exercise can be a great way to prepare yourself to lift for work and life.

Reach out to your coach with questions to work these tips into your lifting!

When Lifting Causes Pain

When lifting causes pain, try to balance letting things calm down by avoiding some painful activities while building tolerance and strength to those same painful activities by staying consistent and gradually doing more. An all-or-none mentality is not best. These tips below can help you find that balance.

  • Some pain is fine! Don't push through unacceptable levels of pain.
  • Monitor 24 hour response to activities and exercises. If pain upticks return to your baseline pain within 24 hours, continue with moving more.
  • If pain becomes unacceptable or increases in pain lasts longer than 24 hours, modify the activity to be easier and try again.
  • Look at your habits. It is easy to build habits with pain and do things over and over. Reflect and try to break any lifting habits that may continue to irritate your symptoms.
  • Setbacks are common. Recovery is rarely a simple straight path but your effort is not wasted. Ups and downs are common. Keep it up!
  • Add variation. Variety can help calm things down. Allowing different sitting postures and lifting techniques might help you do more with less pain. Like all joints, backs are made to move and adapt.
  • Stay consistent! Consistency is the key to change. It can be alluring to look for quick fixes but with persistent pain consistency wins every time.