Researchers Say Heavy Lifting Is Not Causing Back Problems. It’s the Way We’re Doing It

How many times have you hurt your back after lifting something heavy, or pulling or twisting something that ended up causing some kind of strain. When this happens, we and our physicians alike tend to look at the weight that we lifted and judge it as being too much for our backs to bear. But according to a new study, the issue is not the weight that we’re lifting – it’s the fact that we’re not strengthening our spines by exposing them to lifting those loads on a regular basis.

It makes sense when you think about it. Just as we wouldn’t think of running a marathon without months of training, exposing our backs and supporting tissues to increasingly heavy loads helps to prepare them for these tasks. The alternate effect can be seen in every parent who has hurt their back moving their teens into college housing or apartment buildings, as well as many employees who have hurt themselves tackling a new assignment involving lifting.

Those anecdotal examples may be painfully familiar to us, but the research into this issue has been far more scientific. It points to research done on astronauts who have suffered muscle wasting, disc swelling and spine stiffness after months spent in zero gravity and not lifting weights. The weak spines that resulted led to back pain and instability.

But what about injuries suffered as a matter of lifting or twisting too much?

Researchers examined elite rowers, whose training includes a remarkable amount of flexing and strain on the back. These athletes often experience back pain, and most of them recover completely. A careful examination of their experience finds that they do not actually suffer injuries to their lumbar spine, but that bending and loading can cause pain. As a result of rapid increases in training load with poor recovery. Form is also a big contributor, as those who are viewed as using good form and movement in their joints are less likely to experience pain than those who don’t.

So what can a person do to protect their back from injury? One clear point is that the less fit a person is, the less they are able to tolerate a sudden burst of activity of any kind, and that includes lifting and weight loading. Just as a person who is unfit is more likely to suffer a cardiac incident after going out and shoveling snow, they are also more likely to have back pain than they would have if they had been regularly engaged in lifting on an everyday basis. The study’s authors suggest starting light and working up to greater strength, all the time using a load that is heavy enough to register as effort.

This advice is particularly helpful for those who have not yet experienced back pain, but may come too late for people who have already injured themselves. If you are suffering back pain, we can help. Contact us today to get a diagnosis and relief.

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