Back injuries are a major source of suffering, health care expenses, disability, lost time at work and lost income. But most back injuries can be prevented with a little bit of understanding.
Contrary to what most people believe, musculoskeletal injuries don't generally happen because you make one wrong move.
"It's usually cumulative, caused by many small microtears", says Nancy Menzel, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "If those tears aren't allowed to heal through extended rest periods and relief from stress, they can cause permanent damage and eventually put you out of work."
So to prevent serious back injuries, practice safe lifting within your normal comfort zone, and if you do sense any strain in your back, allow yourself time to completely heal before resuming strenuous activity. If you have an existing injury that has not healed, it's much easier to cause more damage to the same area.
What many people don't understand is that your muscles may be able to exert more force than your bones or joints can support. In other words, just because you can lift something, that doesn't mean it doesn't strain your back, knees, feet, shoulders, elbows hands, etc. Those small strains can add up to serious trouble.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) puts the limit for safe lifting at 35 pounds. Unless you are regularly training with weights, that is a good rule to keep in mind.
In addition to limiting the light, there are other equally important guidelines for safe lifting:
Avoid awkward positions. If it feels strange, it's not safe.
Keep your back as straight and upright is you can when you lift things. The act of leaning forward to lift something puts a great deal of leverage on the bones in your lower back. This greatly multiplies the amount of force that is exerted on the bones and joints.
When you are carrying something heavy, hold it close to your body. Holding it away from your body also puts more leverage on your lower back.
When you need to turn around while you're holding something heavy, turn with your feet instead of twisting your back. Twisting your back while holding something heavy puts much greater stresses on the joints, and is often the cause of injury.
Take breaks when needed throughout the day to allow your body time to rest before heavy lifting. It takes much more effort to lift something when you're tired than it does when you're rested. If you've ever lifted weights, you'll understand this. The first repetition is much easier than the last one, and the same amount of weight takes much more effort.
Treatment of back injuries can include rest, applying ice and heat properly, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and in some cases, back surgery. Surgery is normally a last resort, and back surgery can sometimes make the problems much worse. [provide est. of failure rate of back surgery]