The following are three rules to follow in order to avoid painful back injuries:
1. Keep the Chest Forward
Always be sure to bend at the hips - not the low back. Most people believe bending their knees will ensure a safe lift, but this form alone can still lead to a back injury. The most important tip is to bend the hips and push the chest out, pointing forward. Also, one should never twist.
Bending the knees alone will still allow a person to curve the back and risk and injury, but keeping the chest pointing forward will guarantee a straight back. The back muscles will then be used most effectively for maintaining good posture, as they are designed to do. The knees will bend automatically so the muscles of the legs and hips will produce the power for lifting correctly. See Figure 1: Bend With Knees and Figure 2: Keep Chest Forward.
2. Lead with the Hips, Not the Shoulders
Twisting is another dangerous mistake that can lead to back injury. The shoulders should be kept in line with the hips to avoid this movement. For changing directions, move the hips first so the shoulders will move in unison.
When moving the shoulders first, the hips tend to lag behind creating the dangerous twisting that can cause back injury, especially to the joints in the back and pelvis. See Figure 3: Lead With Hips and Figure 4: Keep Shoulder In Line With Hips.
3. Keep the Weight Close to the Body.
The further an object is held from one's center of gravity, the more force required to hold that object up. For example, for most people it is not too difficult to hold a gallon of milk close to the chest, but it can be quite difficult to hold a gallon of milk stretched out in front at arm's reach.
Of course, the milk does not get heavier when it is further from the body, but it does require much more force to hold it up. This extra force will also run through the lower back. Therefore, the closer the object is to one's body, the less likely it is to lead to back injury. See Figure 5: Keep Weight Close to Body.
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If the object is too wide to get it between the knees when lifting, consider getting help from another person instead of trying to lift it alone. Larger objects require lifting at a long reach and increase the load on one's back just like an improper lift technique.